Any time a new technology is introduced, it disrupts values, routines and behaviors. This goes back well before the printing press replaced oral histories or the telephone replaced face-to-face conversations, but is evident today in our regular habits of checking our smartphones for notifications. Kids are growing up with the expectation of auto-playing streaming videos and having access to our phones when we need them to be quiet.
Human anxieties about these changes can take years to resolve, as we slowly figure out how to control the technology to meet our values and needs, rather than being controlled by it. With the rapid pace at which new digital products and services are being developed, parents report feeling particularly overwhelmed. They fear missing out on what benefits tech might hold for their families, yet don’t fully trust that electronic devices and apps are designed or marketed with their child’s best interests in mind.
We doctors used to urge parents to discourage media use under age 2, and to limit kids’ use to two hours a day, at most. But we have now arrived at a more nuanced understanding of the various ways in which children use digital tools. Through review of the updated science, interviews and focus groups with parents from diverse backgrounds, and our own clinical experience, we are now recommending that parents use media as a teaching tool – a way to connect and create – instead of just to consume.
As a developmental behavioral pediatrician, parent of two young boys, and lead author of the new American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement “Media and Young Minds,” I hope to help parents shape tech use in their homes based on their human ideals and values.