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How to Keep Your Kids Healthy Online

A recent National Health and Nutrition Survey found that obesity rates among youth have dramatically increased in the last 25 years, and many experts are pointing to time spent on the Internet and playing games as potential reasons. What’s more, there are other health issues that technology use is potentially contributing to as well, as we not in Parenting High-Tech Kids: The Ultimate Internet, Web, and Online Safety Guide.

Curiously, a study published by researchers from Harvard found that tablet PC users who situate these devices in their lap are putting extra strain on their necks, a condition some have termed “iPad neck.” Such issues accompany other tech-inspired maladies such as “iPhone thumb” or more traditional problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome, which can potentially be brought on by extended time at the keyboard.

One of the emerging causes of multiple problems in kids that has been identified by pediatricians and sleep clinics is the fatigue brought on by teens sending messages to friends in the middle of the night. Some children have been shown to stay up until the early morning hours sending text messages before waking up early for school, failing to get enough rest before departing. After an afternoon nap, these individuals are then ready to stay up late again texting until the wee hours. But such an unhealthy routine causes them to not only be tired and less mentally sharp, but also has an impact on the sleep cycle that causes weaknesses in their immune system which can lead to greater chance of becoming sick. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is also a new phenomenon called “Facebook Depression,” prompted by the intense connections teens are making in the online world.

According to the AAP, social networks provide an easy way for teens to experience early developmental stages of separating from parents and finding peer acceptance. But doing so also opens them to marked emotional responses to negative encounters experienced online as well, such as when they’re de-friended, or feel that they’re not getting enough likes or comments for online activities.

That’s not to say that the simple act of going online or participating in communications or leisure activities over the Internet will have a negative impact on your child or household. In fact, it can often have the opposite effect, allowing children greater access to information, individuals and experiences which they’d never encounter otherwise. But it’s important not to simply dismiss health concerns outright either: Many valid issues bear further research and discussion, and may potentially intrude on your child’s day to day life. All bear considering, albeit in reasonable and open-minded fashion.

Tips:

  • As when addressing issues concerning addiction, experts agree that banning or prohibiting technology outright is not the answer, as doing so may deprive children of many positive benefits. However, parents can, and should be, a shield against negative online influences. When managing technology, it may help to adhere to similar principles as martial arts advocates have long counseled, with a better approach being not to forcibly stop, but rather redirect the force of an opponents’ attack. Translation: Instead of trying to build walls against the outside world, which can be easily skirted (or may crack under pressure), it’s often better to provide healthy detours and a roadmap to more positive routes via informed insight and suggestion.
  • Also important is to monitor and regulate your family’s use of high-tech devices and participation in surrounding activities. Where possible, you should make sure all devices and Internet connections are placed in common areas of the house to allow for effective observation and regulation. Such solutions can obviously be more difficult to with regard to handheld devices. But for mobile gadgets, you can consider setting an electronic curfew or boundaries for your family, with no further use of electronics allowed at or after certain times of day, and during specific occasions.
  • Consider creating a common docking station for all devices in your bedroom, where all high-tech gadgets and accessories must be parked for the night before bedtime.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics says to watch for the following signs of depression associated with Internet use, and to contact your pediatrician should your child experience them: Sadness, anxiety, pessimism, difficulty concentrating, a drop in grades, insomnia, loss of appetite and irritability.
  • As a general rule, many parents require kids to experience one hour or more of outside time for every one hour of video game or screen time. We encourage you to experiment here and implement rules that are a good fit for your family. 
  • As alluded before, make sure to set aside device-free times that the entire family can spend together as well. Parenting experts such as Richard Rende, PhD, associate research professor in the department of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, suggest that the use of technology in and of itself isn’t necessarily what’s dangerous for kids as an impediment to healthy development. Instead, problems can arise if all the use of technology and connecting is done at the expense of other proven developmentally healthy and necessary activities.

For more information on these topics, also be sure to see Parenting High-Tech Kids: The Ultimate Internet, Web, and Online Safety Guide.

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