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Health & Parenting

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Back to School in a Wired World

Are electronic gadgets turning kids into multitasking pros, or are they just dragging them down?

Q. My daughter in middle school is addicted to text-messaging friends on her cell phone. Why does she need such constant connection?

A. It's normal adolescent behavior, Healy says. "Peer relationships are just primary for many kids that age, particularly girls. If everyone else is doing it, the most horrible thing in the world is to feel that you're being left out of the conversation."

But out-of-control text-messaging isn't the answer, Milteer says. "You have to be patient and understanding. But at the same time, limits have to be set."

Some old-fashioned ways still work wonders, she adds. "If they feel like they need to have company and be included, invite a couple of friends over."

Another problem area: text-messaging long after parents have gone to bed. "Kids don't talk on land lines anymore," Milteer says. "If my daughter were using the phone in her room, I could hear her talking to someone. But if she's text-messaging, I would never know."

Don't let too much text-messaging cut into a child's precious sleep time, Milteer says. She recommends that parents take a child's cell phone and store it away for the night.

Q. My 8-year-old son loves video games -- so much that he plays up to three hours each day. Should I limit video games by turning them into a reward only for good behavior?

A. "That's a bad idea," Milteer says. "We're reinforcing behavior that's not always healthy."

"I would offer them activities other than extra TV time," she says. Better rewards -- for example, a simple park outing or a brand new pair of skates -- would encourage physical activity.

In fact, parents should enforce rules to keep kids from playing video games for three hours a day, experts say. According to Milteer, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that those ages 2-18 should engage in no more than two hours per day of "screen time," which includes TV, computer or video games, even watching movies or playing games on a cell phone.

Children under age 2 should have no screen time at all, such as TV viewing, Milteer adds.

Reading, doing large-piece puzzles, and playing with other toddlers are better choices for development and social skills, she says.

To help limit time spent on electronic games, don't put a TV or computer in a child's room, Milteer says. Instead, "Put them in a kitchen or a family room where the parents can monitor computer or game activity."

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