Child Advocates of Northeast Oklahoma suggests families consider making 2018 a year to “unplug” from too much media usage and “plug” into spending more time with their children.

In today’s high-tech world, families are constantly being challenged by digital media. As time with televisions, computers, tablets, and cellphones increase, face-to-face time with our family is decreasing.

“When I’m in area restaurants, I notice lots of families sitting around a restaurant table silently scrolling through text messages on their cellphones rather than engaging in conversation,” said Angela Henderson, Executive Director of Child Advocates of Northeast Oklahoma. “It’s happened many times at my own dinner table, when pressing business interrupts family time.”

This growing “screen time” epidemic is deteriorating the very fabric of family life. “Children are losing out on dinner conversations with their parents and worse, they’re losing out on reading books, playing board games, outdoor play, and creative play time that feeds their minds and sparks their creativity,” Henderson added.

Child Advocates of Northeast Oklahoma suggests families consider making 2018 a year to “unplug” from too much media usage and “plug” into spending more time with their children. In November 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a study indicating a growing number of problems in children and adolescents who spend too much time in front of “screens.”

The AAP recognizes that there are many benefits to our easy access to both social media and traditional media, like keeping us abreast of current events and exposing us to new ideas. However, the AAP expresses growing concerns about links to some adolescent problems, including adolescent obesity, sleep disorders, and a negative impact on academic retention.

To aid families in managing their digital lives, the AAP recommends developing and consistently using a “Family Media Use Plan". A guide to help families develop a plan unique to their family’s needs can be accessed at www.HealthyChildren.org/MediaUsePlan.

To develop a plan, families should consider how many hours per day (beside academic related study) is proper for each child and for parents as well. Working together, decisions need to be made on the number of hours each day that media is used and what types of media usage is allowed during those hours. The plan applies to mom and dad, too, who need to disconnect from the outside world as well.

One of the recommendations for families is to designate “media-free” times and “media-free” locations. One example of a media-free time would be family dinners where cellphones and televisions are off limits. These media-free times should be spent promoting activities that connect family members, such as simply spending time talking about the day’s events or playing cards or boards games together.

A “media-free” location would be bedrooms, where electronic devices should be off limits. AAP recommends that children should not sleep with any electronic devices (cellphone, computers, and televisions) in their bedrooms. This will help ensure your child gets a good night’s sleep by removing the temptation to use them after lights out. Also, AAP recommends that all screen-time should be stopped at least one hour before bedtime due to the bright backlighting on most phones, tablets, and computers, which make the brain believe it is daytime rather than nighttime.

Another important AAP guideline to note is that all media usage (except video-chatting) is discouraged for children younger than 18-24 months.

“Families also should have an open dialogue about online safety,” Henderson said. “It’s become increasingly easier for online predators to have access to our children through online gaming and social media platforms such as SnapChat and Instagram.” Henderson knows several area families whose children have been approached online by a predator and lured away from the family.

“This is a constant battle for parents,” she said. “We need to let our children grow up and become independent, but the very devices that give us comfort that our children are just a phone call away also open our children up to the bigger world where not everyone has their best interests at heart.”

The AAP recommends parents ensure their children understand about appropriate online usage and teach them how to avoid comprising their personal privacy and safety. Helping children become aware of such dangerous issues as cyberbullying, sexting, and online solicitation lets your child know that you understand exactly what is happening online and that you are always there to help.

Finally, parents need to try to stay up-to-date on the latest cell phone apps and the newest social media trends.

“My son told me the other day that Facebook is for ‘old’ people,” Henderson said. “Kids today are on sites like SnapChat, Whisper, MeetMe, GroupMe, and Instagram.” SnapChat and Whisper posts can self-destruct, making it much harder for parents to track children’s activity.

“As parents, we have to make it a priority to learn about the apps and games our children are using,” Henderson said. “One thing I intend to do in the new year is to have my daughter teach me how to use these apps.”

Keeping children safe is important to Child Advocates of Northeast Oklahoma, a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) agency that recruits trains, and supports community volunteers to be the “voice” for abused and neglected children in the judicial system.

During the month of January, CANO is featuring tips on “Managing Your Family’s Digital Lives” and “Ways to Entertain Your Child Without Screens” on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CANO4Kids/). Check the site daily to learn more ways to help families cope with the demands of an ever-increasing digital world.

About CANO

Child Advocates of Northeastern Oklahoma is headquartered in Claremore with an office in Miami. The organization supports CASA Volunteers in five counties in northeastern Oklahoma – Rogers, Mayes, Craig, Ottawa, and Delaware Counties.

CANO is a member agency of the United Way of Rogers and Mayes Counties and the Ottawa County United Way.