One of the top questions I get from readers is how to control their kid’s screen time. Now that kids have access not only to computers but also smartphones, tablets and other devices it is even more challenging to set up a system to help them be safe and limit the time they spend using devices. I have explained in many of my posts that I believe helping your kids control their screen time and understanding internet safety starts with age appropriate and regular family communication on those topics.
Jodi Gold MD is a child and adolescent psychiatrist that has a unique perspective, especially when it comes to family communication! When I found out that she just wrote a book called SCREEN-SMART PARENTING: Screen-Smart Parenting: How to Find Balance and Benefit in Your Child’s Use of Social Media, Apps, and Digital Devices (Guilford Press, November 1, 2014, paperback) that had research and practical strategies, I wanted to find out more.
1. What motivated you to write SCREEN-SMART PARENTING?
Jodi Gold, MD: “I am a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Every day, I went to work and listened to my patients. A theme began to emerge. This one got dumped on text and that one was playing too much World of Warcraft. Parents were worried that their kids were distracted during homework and increasingly concerned about how their children presented themselves online. Then I went to pick up my younger children (aged 5, 7, 9) at school and this mom was concerned about too much TV and that one was upset that her 4 year old could navigate an iPhone. I realized that if I listened carefully, I couldn’t make it through the day professionally or personally without confronting the realities of our changing digital landscape. I wasn’t startled that technology was ubiquitous or that current parents are the last generation of digital immigrants. I was surprised at the fear and ignorance. Parents, teachers and families were constantly fearful and distrustful. I went looking for answers on how to embrace technology and use it for good, but found little guidance.
At the same time, I had been presenting nationally about treatments for ADHD. A senior editor from Guilford Publishers approached me about writing a book for parents about ADHD. I really felt like there were many good books about ADHD already on the market. I was convinced that the Guilford editors would think that I was scattered and crazy but I told them that I really wanted to write a handbook for raising kids in the changing digital world. I wanted to reach both physicians and parents. I had begun to talk about the digital world with my patients and their families within a developmental framework. We spoke about when children should be reading, making friends and going out alone. Theses are all normal parts of growing up. I realized that reading an e-book, getting a phone and creating a social media profile were also part of growing up but we didn’t have any graphs, charts or handbooks. I wanted to write a book that looked at the existing research and offered concrete recommendations based on an understanding of research and child development. Guilford didn’t think that I was crazy and they agreed to publish it before I wrote the first page.”
2. Tell us about how you brought your background in as a doctor to helping explain these issues?
Jodi Gold, MD: “Both the Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry have begun to weigh in on parenting in the digital age. It is critical that physicians make this a priority for research and policy. I believe that we should be adding “digital milestones” to our list of developmental milestones and challenges. I hope that Screen Smart Parenting will deepen the dialogue on raising digital citizens in both the medical and parental world.
In medicine, we base our decisions and approaches on double blind longitudinal studies. When they are not available, we do our best find evidence based research. The goal is to use sound research to support our medical treatments and decisions. In pediatrics, we view everything on a developmental framework. Children are not little adults. We need to understand children and adolescents from a developmental lens. We misperceive and mistreat children if we apply adult rules to them. In psychiatry, we use what is called the bio-psycho-social model. This means that we try to understand children and adults in a multi-faceted way that encompasses genetics, psychology and the realities of family and home life. In psychology, we understand human behavior so we can develop incentives and plans that help children internalize healthy behaviors. We need to use this knowledge as we build behavior plans and create consequences around digital devices. I used these basic principles from research, medicine and psychology to write Screen Smart Parenting. I believe that it is one of the first books on this topic written within a medical model from the standpoint of a practicing clinician.”
3. What is screen smart parenting and what areas does your book discuss?
Jodi Gold, MD: “Screen Smart Parents are parents who are thoughtful and communicative about managing digital technology. They want to cultivate online resilience which scientists increasingly feel is linked to happiness and success in life. They want to instill in their children the tenets of digital citizenship. Eventually, screen smart parents will have the experience of being digital natives and citizens. Right now, most of us are digital immigrants with newly stamped passports and limited command of the digital language. Screen Smart parents do not need a Ph.D. in computer science but they need to check their fear and be willing to learn from and with their children.
In Screen Smart Parenting, I ask parents to figure out their parenting style, understand the digital landscape and develop a family technology plan. In order to parent your children through the digital landscape, you need to understand your family culture and your own relationship with technology. It’s important to understand the developmental evolution of the use of digital technology: what happens at what age. It’s also essential to get a feel for how digital technology is actually used today by children and adolescents. In the book, I write about how technology does affect your child’s development. I also introduce the hot topics that monopolize our conversations from the iBlankie to the proverbial 5 minutes of Facebook fame. In the second part of the book, I write about different age groups, each of which explains how digital technology intersects with what your child needs to achieve during those years and how you can promote technology as a tool to support, not hinder, healthy development. In the third section, I take a more sophisticated look at children who need more attention and parental involvement and may exhibit red flags for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and depression. These “orchid” children may need extra care and modified digital parameters. In the conclusion, I used my experience with behavioral interventions and plans, to give parents the tools to build a realistic and effective family technology plan. I offer age-appropriate templates and suggestions on how to trouble shoot. The goal is to build a family plan that includes your children’s voice in finding balance and using technology as a tool.”
4. What’s the right age for a phone/smartphone/social media access?
Jodi Gold, MD: “This is a personal family decision but I can give you some guidelines as a mother, physician and expert in this field. Your child will eventually own a smartphone so the question is not “if” but when. You should give your child a phone when he/she truly “needs” one. Most kids get their phones and smartphones between the ages of 11 and 14 years of age. Here is a list of reasons for why you might choose to give your child a phone prior to the age of 11.
- Parents are divorced and the child would like to have more control over his or her communication with the non-custodial parent, and/or there is shuttling back and forth. A phone may help with the transition between two households
- A child is taking long bus rides and needs to communicate with parents for some reason
- The child has a chronic medical condition and needs a phone in case there is an urgent need to reach parents and caregivers
- The child has a psychiatric or medical condition that causes her to miss a lot of school. A phone may help to keep in touch with friends and teachers
It is likely that this decision will be somewhat driven by community/peer pressure. It is important for parents to be thoughtful about when and how they introduce a phone. A phone should be introduced in a developmental way (especially if you are giving a child a phone at a younger age).
*I can talk more about social media but similar rules apply. However, there is some social media that is targeted for young children. I encourage interested children to start with child-friendly sites before they move onto Twitter and Instagram.”