By Oby Ekwueme, MD/MPH Student Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Rebecca Unger, M.D.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, an international campaign to raise awareness of bullying prevention. The Internet can be a daunting place for children and can be a source of bullying. This is why it is so important for families, parents and children of all ages to have the toolset to tackle the intricacies of the Internet.
The American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement about Media and Young Minds reports that children between 0-5 years of age are undergoing critical brain development, building secure relationships, and establishing health behaviors. Attention to social interaction and hands on learning is critical for healthy development. Limiting family media use from the beginning can optimize this development.
Children as young as 15 months old can learn from touch screens, but it’s hard for them to apply that to their 3-dimensional world. Video chatting with responsive adults can help children learn and connect with others, however there is a need for ongoing parental support to help young children understand their experience.
Preschool children can benefit from well-designed media programming, however for most of the thousands of apps that claim to be “educational” there are no established criteria to confirm the benefit. It is optimal to teach young children executive functioning, task persistence, impulse control, and creative thinking through unstructured and social play rather than digital learning.
It is also important for parents to monitor and engage in media usage with older children. Parents can use these opportunities to explore educational aspects of the Internet, as well as learn from their children. The learning goes both ways! It is important for parents to speak to their children about “online citizenship” and safety, which includes treating others the same way offline as they would online. When children are engaged in these conversations they can learn to avoid compromising communications and cyber bullying, as well as learn to whom they can turn to when they encounter challenges.
Families can mutually learn about the importance of creating screen free zones, develop an understanding of how to use technology in social ways, as well as focus on healthy sleep, nutrition, and physical activity patterns despite the temptation of media.
Understanding the recommendations, and establishing family rules and guidelines, helps create safe boundaries. These boundaries can be a springboard for children to explore and feel supported.
Recommendations for family media use:
Adapted from AAP recommendations, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/5/e20162591
Cyber bullying awareness:
Even though the Internet has many positive benefits, it does come with its own dangers. For serious parenting issues, cyber bullying is a relatively new concern that has developed in the past several decades. The problem with cyber bullying is the potential anonymity, the pervasiveness, and the possibility for things to get out of hand far quicker than in person. Some warning signs that cyber bullying is affecting your child are changes in their technology usage (including texting), their emotions (especially in relation to their technology usage), and withdrawal from activities that/people who they used to enjoy. If you think that your child is being cyber bullied, here’s what you can do:
Adapted from stopbullying.gov, https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/prevention/index.html