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Smart phone savvy
Dealing with the fine fine of how much is too much for our kids?


May 2015

Technology, specifically handheld devices, appears to be everywhere in today’s society. However, when it comes to this type of equipment and children, how young is too young? Are the benefits of smartphones, tablets and other devices outweighed by the potential problems they could be creating for those age 12 and younger?

According to clinical psychologist Dr. Munther Barakat of Aurora Behavioral Health Services, it’s estimated that 75 percent of kids now have access to some form of a handheld device, and that number is expected to grow with each passing year.

"There’s always a battle between parents and kids as to how much usage they should have," says Barakat. "Parents complain about their kids being on it for a significant period of time."

While schools are developing curricula and plans for how teachers and kids will use this technology in the classroom, many wonder what role parents should play, especially at home, when it comes to monitoring usage.

Barakat suggests to parents that rules be firmly established when the technology is first introduced. He believes younger children should spend less time on devices simply because many aren’t at the development level yet to manage it.

He runs the child/adolescent treatment program at the Aurora Psychiatric Hospital in Wauwatosa and sees an array of issues children deal with from overexposure to handheld devices, particularly when it comes to explicit video games or using devices in inappropriate ways.

"We’ve had kids in our program who were 11, 12 and 13 years old who have gotten into trouble because of the type of communication they’ve had with peers; they’re texting and sending pictures. Sometimes kids are even communicating with strangers, and parents are completely unaware of it," says Barakat.

He also sees some older adolescents who have interpersonal and anxiety issues because of this type of technology. When it comes to younger kids, Barakat sees them coping with tantrums, adjustment to restrictions, ADHD, sleep deprivation and increased stress. "It’s harder for them to de-escalate, harder for them to go to sleep at night because they’re playing games, or engaged in some sort of technology, when they’re supposed to be going to bed," says Barakat.

If used responsibly, today’s technology has extraordinary benefits for children of all ages. According to Barakat, parents can access different applications that can help children with cognitive disabilities communicate, and those who have ADHD become more organized. He also sees a tremendous upside when it comes to schoolwork. "We teach kids to utilize technologies to study. They can use flash cards and there’s applications out there for specific classes, so that can help them academically," he says.

Advances in technology are inevitable, but how kids are taught to use this rapidly changing technology may be the key to their success in life, as well as their mental welfare.

In 2013, kids under the age of 8 spent, on average, 15 minutes per day on a smartphone or tablet (Common Sense Media)

90 percent of U.S. children aged 6-12 play video games, compared to 88 percent for teens and 62 percent for adults.


This story ran in the May 2015 issue of: