eKids? When to Unplug Digital Devices

Back when I was a kid, my mom was most concerned with the amount of time I spent in front of the TV or on the phone. Like kids do, I would sneak phone calls after bedtime and watch TV from the time I got home from school until she came home from work, without reporting it to her. Oh those were the days!

Today’s parents have more potential vices and devices to control while protecting their children. And unlike our wired telephone or console TV that weighed more than 200 pounds (and only had three channels), today’s threats are handheld, portable and work away from the house.

What’s more, we parents must use these devices to stay connected to our jobs, organize the demands of raising kids, and keep abreast of our children’s progress at school.

So how can we ask our kids to detach, when they see us tethered to our smartphones, tablets and computers day after day?

Baptist Health Medical Group Pediatrician Javier Hiriart, M.D., from the Family Medicine Center at West Kendall Baptist Hospital, suggests unplugging yourself, especially when your kids are around.

“We have to set a good example for our kids,” he said. “It’s difficult in today’s society, but kids follow our lead.”

Sure, we can pull out the old “Do as I say, not as I do” lecture, but did it work on you when you were a kid? It sure didn’t on me.

Dr. Hiriart assures us that using electronic devices in moderation won’t harm your children, but he has seen a handful of kids, especially preteens and teenagers, who have traded in human interaction with the virtual world. In this situation, he says, intervention is warranted.

“Components of electronic device use and participation in social media can be addictive,” he warns. “Kids are unknowingly being taught to expect instant gratification. As that expectation is repeated often and learned, other addictive behaviors that have the same instant gratification may follow.”

Warning Signs

Dr. Hiriart offers these signs, which may indicate your child needs professional help disconnecting:

• Dropping other activities or interests to spend time on electronic devices.
• Withdrawing from family activities.
• Emotional detachment during family activities, such as meals.
• Worsening grades.
• Changes in social behavior with friends.

To ward off any potential problems, Dr. Hiriart recommends parents pay close attention to their children’s electronic behavior. Here are his suggestions:

• Discuss your concerns, and set boundaries with your child when you’re not angry. Calm discussions prove more successful.
• Set time limits for electronic devices, and insist upon equal time doing an outdoor activity, reading or interacting with their peers face-to-face in a supervised setting.
• Always know what your child is doing online. School work should be monitored as well.
• Require them to keep you in their social media circles so you can monitor their behavior and those of their friends on those channels.

Dr. Hiriart says that most kids will follow the rules most of the time and even an occasional slip up is not necessarily anything to worry about.

“Anything in moderation, is usually OK,” he said. “Just like we don’t want our kids to only eat fruits or vegetables, we should insist upon a variety of activities to keep them engaged in the real world. And be sure to stay vigilant so your child knows there are consequences to not following your rules.”

As for my own transgressions as a teenager, my mom will be happy to know I’m getting paid back from my own children. Yet, thanks to Dr. Hiriart’s advice, I’m going to be keeping a watchful eye and laying down some ground rules, including putting away my smartphone at night.

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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