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Expert Helps Parents Manage Child Use of Modern Technology
Eitan D. Schwarz MD -- ZillyDilly for iPad Eitan D. Schwarz MD -- ZillyDilly for iPad
Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Younger and younger children are now in charge of how they consume media, and they are mostly consuming junk. Surveys show that older kids spend over 50 hours a week and growing. Family interactions, imaginative play, and grades drop when media increase.

Excessive consumption can cause emotional difficulties, as well as result from existing ones. Children need the thoughtful, active and positive guidance of their parents in this amazing Wild-West tech environment. Merely restricting access is just not enough.

In his new book, Kids, Parents & Technology: A Guide for Young Families, Dr. Eitan Schwarz suggests a family media plan that involves a certain amount of time each week with home media that adds to family relationships, socialization, values education, education enrichment, and entertainment.

The Illinois psychiatrist states that the family-based approach – empowering and educating parents and giving them good tools to manage kids' media consumption – can complement many of the aims of both the child advocacy communities and the media industries and of the legislative and policy initiatives currently being discussed.

Dr. Schwarz recommends that parents begin when children are infants, gradually decreasing their supervision and participation and increasing their collaoration as the children age. For every age group, there is a world of fun Internet sites and electronic games that contribute to a child's development. His book is a roadmap that is carefully designed to enable parents who feel inadequate and guilty about the place of home media so they can become effective and empowered. Here are some of the helpful ideas he offers up

• Take Charge – Have confidence and take charge. You can manage this important area of your kids lives. You have the home-court advantage. Many parents too readily take a back seat and let kids take the lead. In what other important area of life would they let that happen?

• Media are Appliances – Start thinking of media as family appliances that must have positive values. Kids treat media as toys, but they are in fact adult tools with enormous power. Would you let your unsupervised young child use the telephone or oven? Only devices with proven benefits belong in children's hands.

• Technology is Healthy – From infancy onwards, teach kids to appreciate technology as a healthy and routine part of family life. Starting young, children will learn that using technology is collaborative and social — and not an isolating solitary activity.

• Include the Whole Family – Create a new environment around the online family computer and other media to promote mutuality, fun, respect, and development for the entire family. Moving the home computer away from the wall and arranging seating all around it will make it a popular center for family life.

• Make Media a Positive Learning Tool – Just as you already shop for healthy food, harvest the positive opportunities offered by media. For example, for every age group there are wonderful Internet sites that offer a world of learning entertainment experiences.

• Create Healthy Media Plans – Like you do meal plans, tailor media use into daily menus for each child to provide Growth Opportunities. For example, regularly require enough online time on activities that enhance good values and education enrichment.

The explosive use of home computers and other technology-based consumer media—some intended for children as young as six months—has parents concerned about the impact of computers, video games, smart phones and other interactive media on their children's development, family life, and social relationships.

Parents need to focus on the educational value of home technology, says family and child psychiatrist Eitan D. Schwarz, M.D., also known to his patients as Dr. S. They should plan their children's use of the media for growth and development opportunities just as they plan meals for nutrition and health. And, just as they should share dinners together, they should spend time together with interactive media.

Recognizing the educational power of audio and visual devices, Dr. Schwarz conveys his messages through a series of videos—some for parents, some for children—on his website, www.mydigitalfamily.org.

Lynda O'Connor
(847) 615-5462