Health Watch/Baraga County Memorial Hospital/Sharon Gilliland, M.D.

This is a tough topic for me because I raised two sons who have made computer science their career choice. I was one of those Moms who refused to allow any video games or game equipment in the house when my kids were young. So, wouldn’t you know, both of my kids were so enamored of the video games they could never play at home that the very prohibition made gaming more attractive to them.

I have since come to appreciate some of the good things about electronic gaming. HOWEVER (and it is a big however), I have also come to recognize the very big problems that can result from the use of electronics during childhood and adolescence.

I have babies brought into my exam rooms playing with Mom or Dad’s iPhone. I see toddlers playing with electronics as a way to keep them occupied. I see children who are overweight and rarely go outside or to the gym but spend their time with electronics. I see children and adolescents who come in with chronic fatigue because they spend their late nights gaming rather than sleeping.

A vital task of babies and toddlers is to learn social interaction and communication skills. They need to spend the majority of their waking hours communicating and interacting with other people. We are teaching our babies to be electronically savvy. We are NOT, however, teaching them the interpersonal skills they need to communicate and interact with other human beings unless we are spending that vital time with them. We need to be talking with them, reading with them, playing with them and letting them watch us as we go about our day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends NO ELECTRONICS at all before the age of 2 years. They also recommend putting limitations on screen time thereafter. Their recommendation is that children get no more than 2 hours a day of total screen time. This includes TV, electronic games, social media, video games, online gaming and the like.

This limitation holds for older children and teens as well. It is easy to become “addicted” to electronic games. Everything in moderation is a very good rule of thumb. If a child is using electronics to the point where he/she is not reading regularly, not playing outdoors, not participating in physical activity or not sleeping, that child is getting too much electronic play. I learned the hard way not to forbid electronics altogether. However, as the parent, you definitely hold the keys. Do not fall victim to the argument that all the other kids can have electronics in their bedroom or none of the other kids are expected to do chores, or go outside or the list goes on. You are the parent. You make the rules. Your youngster needs the security of a parent in charge, whether or not that youngster agrees with that sentiment. You are the parent. Make and enforce the rules.

Adolescents need 9-10 hours of sleep at night. It is very difficult for them to get this on a regular basis, especially if they are involved in after school activities. They have homework; they have sports practices; they have chores at home; sleep usually takes a backseat to all of these. If you add in a significant amount of time spent gaming, especially online, these kids are quickly sleep deprived. Online gaming is available continuously somewhere in the world. The kids are not limited to their own time zone. They have lots of incentive to go online in the middle of the night. They also have a very real ability to do this when their hard-working parents are sound asleep. My recommendation is to keep electronics out of the bedroom. If this habit is started at an early age, it will not be as hard to enforce when your kids get to the age when they can flout your rules without your knowledge. It is also usually true that the adolescent is not the person paying the bill for the internet and for the iPhone. Use the inherent power in that fact. Don’t pay for excessive electronics time for your teen.

We are immersed in a highly electronic world. Though it is true that a full knowledge of electronics will be a valuable tool for your child to learn, don’t forget that he first needs to learn to be fully interactive with other human beings and that she needs human contact, exercise and sufficient sleep. With your help and guidance, he can enter adulthood with all of these tools and take the world by storm.

Editor’s note:?Sherry Gilliland, M.D. is part of the BCMH?Physician Group.