The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated its policy statement concerning the management of children's media use. I commend the Academy for its efforts and intent, and it is revelatory to see that despite advances in mobile phones, iPads, computers, and the learning tools delivered by them, the group still questions their efficacy in the healthy upbringing of a child. At the same time I question some of their recommendations. In this digital age, I think a reality gut check is in order here, especially as these recommendations pertain to social media.
First off though, kudos to the Academy for bringing to the forefront the debate about children and media in the digital age. We can't avoid the topic nor should we, unless we want our kids to become the failed technology experiments perpetrated by our own fascination with all things digital. I think Dr. Marjorie Hogan, one of the co-authors of the policy, offers a valuable prescription by encouraging "a healthy 'media diet'." That's a great starting point, albeit with the challenge to define what is "healthy."
Where I feel the Academy's statement starts to go awry is in its cast of media in a strictly negative light. Dr. Victor Strasburger, another co-author of the AAP's statement, links media to violence, school woes, obesity, and a lack of sleep. Is there such a connection? Absolutely, and I share Dr. Strasburger's concerns. Even great parenting can be usurped by a child's devotion to the opinions of their peers and their exposure to many forms of unregulated media. A child's mind often lacks the critical thinking filter of an adult's. When I've taught marketing to MBA students, one of the stunning facts they learn is that kids, even in their teens, often believe that a commercial is telling them the truth.
Yet as many studies validate, great parenting is also highly effective. So then the question becomes one of altering the national parenting landscape, a nearly impossible task in today's world. Surely we need to take more active roles by teaching tolerance and empathy to our children in our schools and at home. We need to encourage and be models for getting exercise, a healthy diet, and a good's night sleep. These are learned traits not inherent ones. Perhaps the issues that Strasburger calls out are more the by-products of a parent-deprived world that kids live in today, rather than anything else. Educating busy parents on how to be more effective with their children has become a new battle cry and, rightly so. Easy to identify, not so easy to solve.
Parents must be the ones helping our children foster appropriate and positive media use. We might want to limit daily media use, which the AAP policy recommends. But I question where the Academy recommends banning media devices in our kid's bedrooms. Up to a certain age that likely makes good sense, particularly with young children. Of course that may also require us to lessen the parenting escape hatch of giving our young children an iPad, cellphone, or other device to distract themselves so that we can have a breath or two. When a child then becomes a savvy early teenager, as we adults know having once been kids ourselves, they will always find a way around such rules. And such a policy becomes more a dare than a functional rule, building walls of separation and creating issues of trust. Perhaps worst of all, such rules discourage children from telling their parents about their online experiences. By taking such extreme measures parents make social media a taboo subject in the home. That's a losing proposition for everyone.
Also lost in this debate is the reality of 21st century learning. Media devices in our classroom have become a valuable education tool. We are using them to bring the world's experiences closer to children and prepare them to participate as online citizens in the digital age. Social media, as a by-product, offers real value and connection -- enriching our children's relationships with their relatives, sports teams, classmates, and friends. The question is how do we find a balance for our kids in this rampant technology era and give them a sense of living in the real world where they smell actual roses and climb trees, too.
As with most things today, moderation and balance are concepts that we want to re-introduce to here. At the very least, as adults we must lead the conversations at home about digital citizenship, and help our children become responsible and judicious online citizens who look forward to being disconnected, and release the sway that technology commands. We can also utilize and encourage the use of sites, such as Sgrouples.com, that give our kids the social media experiences we want them to have, under the umbrella of safety and privacy we demand. Setting the proper example of behavior paves the path for a successful future for all of us as digital citizens.