In 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics issues its first policy statement regarding internet usage and its potential affects on the well-being of children and adolescents.
And, boy, have things changed since then. Cyberspace has morphed and grown by leaps and bounds. In 2001, there were no tablets or smartphones, nor were we fully aware of the global impact technology would have on the world.
Twelve years after that initial policy statement, the AAP has issued a second one on electronic media and the importance of having a usage plan in place for the protection of our families.
The Importance of Parameters
In the just-released policy statement, entitled “Children, Adolescents and the Media,” the AAP recommends parents create an environment within the home that protects their children’s psychological and physical well being. Various studies have shown a causal relationship between too much screen time with obesity, lack of sleep, aggression and problems at school, so establishing a schedule regarding dinner time, bedtime and media usage is imperative.
And of course, in addition to health risks, they are very real online threats to children’s safety; some of the statistics are quite alarming. The average 8-10 year old spends 8-10 hours a day in front of a screen. According to one study, 25% of children have “stumbled” inadvertently on to pornographic websites. In 2004, more than 700 children were abducted by strangers they met online.
Online Stranger Danger
In a separate article on cyberspace safety, the AAP reminds parents that when we or our children get online, there is no such thing as privacy. A graduate student from the University of Arkansas illustrated this point several years ago when she demonstrated how completely accessible the internet makes us; for her thesis, she camped out in a greenhouse on the lawn in front of one of the administration buildings. Every move she made was visible to anyone who walked by.
Because they are few boundaries once a child is online, parents must make sure they construct some for them.
Healthychildren.org suggests keeping computers, televisions and smartphones out of children’s bedrooms and make it a habit to put all devices in a central location every night to recharge them. Try to limit screen time to less than 1-2 hours a day.
The anonymity of the Internet is a predator’s dream; just since I sat down to write this, a local television announced that a local clown has admitted to child pornography charges. Last week, a local athletic director was arrested for arranging to meet who he thought was a 14 year old girl he met online – turns out he inadvertently made a date with an undercover detective.
No longer is it adequate to merely warn our children not to talk to or take candy from strangers they may run into while out and about. Make sure to keep communication open regarding meeting and talking to people online; predators know what they’re doing. Many of them will try to befriend children they perceive as vulnerable by siding with them against their parents and teachers and isolating them from their friends in the “real” world.
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