Plain and simple, all parents worry. In the 1930s, they worried about the effects of listening to the radio would have on their children’s priorities. In the 1950s, it was the accessibility of “adult” content on television. It wasn’t until the 1980s, though, that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came up with guidelines for how children and teens should interact with the growing presence of technology and media. Since then, rules around “screen time” and acceptable media practices have changed right along with developing technology.
Dr. Sina Safahieh, a Board Certified Pediatric Psychiatrist and the Medical Director for Orange County, California’s Hoag Hospital’s ASPIRE program, tells Parentology all that worry may be for a good reason: children and teens today experience a significantly more “amplified” world compared to the one their parents and grandparents grew up in.
“Just as internet speeds are constantly advancing, teens are functioning at a higher rate and constantly in tune with new technology,” Safahieh says. “As ‘digital natives,’ teens have never known a world without access to the internet and cell phones.” Indeed, children are growing up in a world where everything is just a click away. While there are benefits to having unlimited access to information, parents should be concerned about the way their children interact with these technologies.
Not only do kids today experience excessive stimulation with the use of social media and video games, but the different mediums can be far more addictive than those that came before them. Safahieh says these platforms and games provide teens with a constant dopamine boosts and hyper-connectivity, both things that perpetuate addiction.
For parents worried about addiction, Safahieh says that the most effective treatment is limiting use. “Academics, social interactions and physical activity should be priorities,” he advises. “Only once these have been addressed should video games be allowed.” Though Safaheih says every family should have their own rules, a good rule of thumb is for kids to play video games no more than one to two hours per day.
As for what future parents will have to worry about, Safahieh believes virtual and augmented reality simulators will become more developed and readily available in coming years, presenting new concerns about how to govern children’s screen time.
What worries Safahieh? That excessive use of these various platforms may reinforce isolation, cause depression, sleep disturbances, energy loss, focus issues and an inability for the children of tomorrow to find pleasure in their lives offline.
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