How young is too young (for digital media)?
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If you’re like us, you have wondered more than once what age is the “right” age to start using a particular digital device, app, or social media platform.
When we talk with parents about this, many express feeling like they’re holding the line in a battle for as long as possible. They feel constant pressure, from multiple sources, for kids to start using more and more digital technology at earlier and earlier ages.
That cultural pressure makes this question particularly tough.
We can tell you what doctors recommend, what legal regulations say, or various other pros and cons; but when your kids’ school tells you they need an email account, or their coach tells you they will be coordinating practice times by text message, or your teen comes home and tells you the irrefutable sad refrain, “All my friends have one!”—the data seems to go out the window. Here are a few tips:
1. Listen to what the doctors say.
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends keeping “screen-free zones” in the house, especially a young person’s bedroom, as well as “screen-free times” like during meals. They also recommend just one to two hours of entertainment screen time per day, and zero screen time at all for children under two years old.
Keep in mind that these are the same people who recommend brushing your teeth three times a day, sleeping eight hours a night, daily exercise, and a well-balanced diet—they set the bar at “best-case scenario.” But that best-case scenario is based on what’s good for our bodies, minds, and emotions. Aiming high never hurts.
2. The magic number is 13.
3. Talk with other parents.
Most parents feel left on their own to make decisions about digital media. Agreeing to particular standards (like holding the age 13 lower limit) with other parents in your community provides some peace of mind, and can be helpful when teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and so on try to push toward using particular contact platforms by providing strength in numbers.
4. Remember why it matters.
These devices and platforms are to our kids like the Air Jordans, leather jackets, Walkmans, or whatever else were to you at their age. It is easy to get misdirected by questions of convenience, necessity, requirement for school, and so on. What is at stake for a lot of young people when they ask, then beg, for these devices or networks is a feeling of fitting in and self-worth. Take that into consideration, show empathy, and remember how important social access and status symbols seemed to you in your adolescent journey.
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