Back to School in a Wired World
Are electronic gadgets turning kids into multitasking pros, or are they just dragging them down?
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,
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."
Q. My son spends most of his free time online, playing games, downloading music, instant-messaging, and surfing web sites. When does this activity cross the line into being unhealthy?
A. Falling grades, loss of friends, sleep disturbance -- any of these signs
can point to "too much electronic stimulation," Healy says.
Try to monitor your child's Internet use, she suggests. If you're worried
that his or her computer habits are seriously disrupting academic, home, or
social life, consider seeking help from teachers or psychological
professionals, Healy adds. "It's worth talking to a counselor about it.
This is not a trivial matter."