Digital Safety Alliance | Nicklaus Childrens Hospital

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Get in Control: How to Protect Your Child from the Potential Dangers of Digital Devices and Media
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Dr. Azaret

By: Dr. Marisa Azaret
February 25th, 2024



Digital technology has transformed how children communicate, learn, and entertain themselves. While this transformation has produced tangible benefits, it also comes with numerous risks and challenges that need to be carefully navigated.
 
Research from Common Sense Media shows that media use by tweens (children between ages 8 and 12) and teens (ages 13 to 18) grew faster in the two years after the COVID-19 pandemic than during the four years prior. Kids between 8 and 12 now spend an average of five and a half hours a day on screens and consuming media. That number climbs to more than eight and a half hours a day for teens.
 
Nearly three-quarters (71%) of parents with younger children (under 12) are concerned about their child spending too much time in front of screens, and their concerns are valid.
 
Not only can kids be influenced by their peers at school, but they are at risk of being influenced by strangers online and exposed to content they may not be ready to see. These and other issues can be avoided if kids aren't given more technology than they need for their current developmental stage.
 
The Pros and (Many) Cons of Children’s Digital Activity
 
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, digital media definitely provides some benefits for children and teens.
 
Digital media can:
 

  • Expose young people to new ideas and information.
  • Inform young people about current events and encourage community participation.
  • Help students collaborate on assignments and projects.
  • Allow families and friends to stay in touch.
  • Provide access to valuable support networks, especially for people with illnesses or disabilities.
  • Help promote wellness and healthy behaviors.
 
While the benefits digital media provides for kids and teens are clear, it provides an even bigger number of potential dangers.
 
Here are several reasons for limiting your child’s digital media consumption:
 
  • When infants or preschoolers spend too much time in front of screens — and not enough time interacting with their parents and family members — they can exhibit delays in attention, thinking, language, and social skills.
 
  • Children who spend too much time using digital devices — and too little time engaging in healthy physical play — can develop a myriad of physical issues, including eye strain, headaches, musculoskeletal problems, poor posture, and obesity. 
 
  • Children who spend too much time using digital devices can become addicted to them, causing them to have less interest in real-life relationships, a higher risk for depression, and decreased academic performance.
 
  • Using digital devices in the bedroom at night can interfere with your child’s sleep, leading to sleep deprivation and negatively affecting their mental health, overall health, and performance in school.
 
  • Not only can excessive use of digital devices interfere with a child's focus on educational activities and cognitive development, but using devices while doing schoolwork or homework can have a negative effect on their progress in school.
 
  • Kids can easily stumble upon age-inappropriate content, including violence, explicit material, or content promoting risky behaviors — like substance use, sexual behaviors, self-injury, or eating disorders — which can potentially lead to physical and/or psychological harm.
 
  • Kids and teens are typically too young to understand that “the internet is forever” and any sexually explicit images, videos, or text images they receive or share with others are virtually impossible to delete completely. 
 
  • Children and teens can be subject to cyber harassment or bullying, which can affect their mental health and well-being, as well as potentially lead to (often tragic) emotional consequences.
 
  • Children can easily be exposed to online predators who can exploit their innocence, trust, and personal information — and who pose a serious threat to their safety — via social networks, chat rooms, e-mail, and online gaming.
 
It is essential for parents, caregivers, and educators to not only be aware of these potential dangers, but to also implement responsible guidelines to mitigate these risks and promote a safe and healthy digital environment for kids.
 
How to Keep Your Kids Safe
 
The more kids use digital devices, the more they’ll want to use them. In order to protect your children from the dangers and threats listed above, it’s crucial that you remain engaged with them and foster safe and responsible digital practices.
 
Consider these tips:
 
  1. Establish Safe Online Practices: Supervise and monitor your child’s introduction to the internet. Allow your child to use only age-appropriate apps, games, and websites. Foster open communication so your child feels comfortable discussing any uncomfortable online experiences or encounters.
 
  1. Educate and Communicate: Detail the potential risks of online activities with your child, including cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and the importance of responsible online behavior. Teach your child about digital footprints and the long-term consequences of sharing personal information online. Be open and available to answer any questions they may have.
 
  1. Emphasize Cybersecurity: Teach your child about the importance of using strong and unique online passwords, as well as the risks associated with sharing passwords or personal information online. Discuss the potential dangers of clicking on suspicious links, downloading unknown files, or interacting with strangers online.
 
  1. Set Screen Time Limits: It’s important to set healthy limits on the amount of time your child spends on digital devices and encourage participation in other activities. You can use screen time management functions and apps like Apple’s Screen Time (for iOS), Google Family Link (for Android households with children under 13), or Qustodio (for Android households with kids over 13), which allow you to manage your child’s phone remotely, curb access to the phone at bedtime, and set limits on how much time your child can spend on specific apps, on categories of apps, or on the phone in general. Note: Be sure to set a good example by demonstrating responsible device use and limiting your own screen time.
 
  1. Create a Family Media Plan: A customized media usage plan for your family can help your kids avoid overusing media by balancing it with other healthy activities. Your media plan should consider each child's age, health, personality, and developmental stage. It should also account for adequate sleep (8–12 hours each night, depending on age), physical activity (1 hour a day), and time away from media. Click here to create a family media plan.


Keep up with the latest trends and risks related to your child's online activities by regularly checking updates from reputable sources such as: Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org), National Online Safety (nationalonlinesafety.com), and Childnet International (childnet.com) You can also click here for our list of helpful resources for parents and kids related to digital safety, which includes a handy guide for helping you determine when and how to give cellphones to your kids. And check out the kid-safe devices from our partner Troomi Wireless here.