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Home / News and Events / Health Tips / Limit your child's technology use
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Limit your child's technology use
 

Reviewed By: Harsh K. Trivedi, M.D., executive medical director and chief-of-staff of the Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital (Last Updated: January 5, 2011)
  

For adolescents who got their first cell phone, or teens who received a laptop computer over the holidays, experts at Vanderbilt have just one thing to say: all things in moderation.

For parents, that means moderating the amount of contact children have with friends via electronic devices, and encouraging more face-to-face contact.

Harsh K. Trivedi, M.D., executive medical director and chief-of-staff of the Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital, says critical face-to-face contact teaches skills in youth that serve people well later in life, including on the job. So, just as parents might advise children to avoid too many sweets, they also should instruct children and teens to avoid depending too heavily on electronic devices for their communications with friends.

"During adolescence and teen years, it becomes very important to learn to read non-verbal cues. It helps in understanding context and reading between the lines," Trivedi said.

Human communication is far more complex than you might suspect. Tone and inflection, the use of sarcasm and innuendo, and even body language and eye contact contribute to rich communication. Trivedi said skills that a child needs to communicate over email are different from skills they must have to navigate relationships on the playground. The complex rules of the playground are similar to rules in a board room.

"Many different parts of the brain are used for face-to-face communication. And still different areas are used for keyboarding in electronic communication. What's interesting is that people in the autism spectrum may be terrible at face-to-face communication, but they do much better with instant messaging or email," Trivedi said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time of any sort, be it texting on a smart phone or watching TV, to a four-hour maximum per day. Parents also can encourage their children to invite friends over or to make plans to get together.

"It's just so much the norm now, especially for teens, to use texting or social media to keep up with friends, but parents can help find balance," Trivedi said.


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