AAP 2011: Technology, Media, and the Impact on Adolescents


Technology in the form of just about every medium has infiltrated our daily lives--there's no question about that. But where (and at what age) should the line be drawn?

Media has infiltrated our lives--that’s a given. But just how much exactly? Well, here are some fun facts that were thrown around in this afternoon’s “What Every Pediatrician Should Know about Media Literacy” session:

  • Teens send an average of 3,146 texts per month
  • Children ages 9-12 send approximately 1,146 texts per month
  • 69% of teens with a cell phone admit to texting while at the dinner table
  • 42% of PARENTS with a cell phone admit to texting while at dinner table
  • In 2005, “shared family time” averaged 26 hours per month; in 2008, that decreased nearly 30% to 17.9 hours per month
  • In 1971, the average age in which children began to watch TV was 4; today 40% of children start watching TV at 4 months old

Media consumption seems to increase exponentially with every year. However, as technology continues to evolve and gadgets are made to satiate our every media whim, the impact on younger generations becomes more and more pronounced. Time spent with family decreases, and more and more gadgets seem to be used simultaneously, creating many situations where children are experiencing an isolated, multi-sensory experience. Just ask yourself how many times you’ve seen a teenager or even a pre-teen playing on a computer or texting on their cell phone while listening to their iPod. Chances are that you are encountering this scenario with greater frequency as time goes on. But along with the increase in this scenario comes alarming data suggesting that those children that are exposed to excessive doses of technology on a regular basis at a young age can develop any number of behavioral or health problems. Rest assured that this body of data will continue to increase over time.

But what can be done? What kind of intervention is realistic and where does the pediatrician come in? Those were some discussion points for presenters Kathleen Clarke-Pearson, MD, FAAP, and Donald Shifrin, MD, FAAP. While those questions were somewhat rhetorical, there were was a general consensus that pediatricians should encourage parents (and children) to have the technology put away at dinner time and before bed. In fact, there’s a large body of data that speaks to an epidemic among teenagers in the latter scenario; most often text, use the computer, and watch television until very late at night and do not get the appropriate amount of sleep. This in turn can lead to sluggish behavior, a disruption in learning at school, and possibly even additional health problems. Therefore, ditching the tech at a reasonable hour at night is highly recommended.

Clarke-Pearson and Shifrin continued to stress the involvement of the pediatrician, almost to the point of excess. It would seem that, at some point, parents need to be parents. Pediatricians can only do so much. Proper education and encouragement is all well and good, but short of moving in with the family, the responsibility must then shift to mom and dad. Monitoring a child’s intake of technology in this day and age is absolutely crucial. And “quality” intake at that; Shifrin made the point that working on a homework assignment online or an interest in robotics is not the same as posting Facebook pictures and viewing YouTube videos. Like anything else, moderation is the key. Unfortunately, it seems as though our culture is accepting the increased prevalence of technology in our daily lives at a very young age, and “overdosing” in this regard may not lead to death, but it has proven to have a negative impact on health. Which begs the question: is an increase in technology the problem, or is a decrease in common sense the problem?

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