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Google unveiled today (and Apple will soon follow) yet another forward-looking technology device -- voice-commanded eyeglasses with lenses that are actually transparent screens to display online digital images (and probably eventually also sound from the earpieces). These are a new category of "wearable computers".
"These surely promise to become much more intimate accessories tied more closely to our personal space and identity. Can you imagine how attractive these will be to youngsters of all ages and the pressure on parents to buy them? And the teen fads? 'Parents see spectacle: Girls and guys eyeing Google goggles go gaga.' And how will you control them? And then they will spread to the fashion world...Parents too must be "forward-looking" in anticipating challenges from these new devices. New technologies will keep coming fast, so how will parents and educators help children benefit, rather than be hurt by their use?" asks Eitan Schwarz, MD, a veteran Chicago child psychiatrist, faculty member at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, and expert on children and technology.
"Our truly brilliant engineers deliver great innovations to serve us as tools. But in the hands of children, most will be coveted as toys, much as computers, mobile phones and tablets have been, and difficult to control. Yes, recent guidance by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and Fred Rogers Center describes potential educational benefits to young children, moderating earlier warnings by the American Academy of Pediatrics and essentially sanctioning greater parental discretion. However, while digital devices have great potential to benefit kids and families, studies are showing that unsupervised widespread use causes disturbances in learning, attention, normal play, and social skills especially in the 20% of more vulnerable kids," according to Dr. Schwarz.
Dr. Schwarz, inventor of ZillyDilly for iPad, is concerned that parents are mostly on their own managing their kids with these devices, "Each family seems to cope in its own way, and some do very well. Many don't."
Dr. Schwarz has innovated a comprehensive way of thinking and a solution, "After over a decade of Wild West excitement and chaos, It is now time for parents to begin systematically and throughly teaching their children through their teens positive media habits at home, where they have the home court advantage. I urge parents to anchor media usage firmly within family life, starting even as early as the pre-school years. Make all tech devices family and school appliances. Prevent alone use except for reading and homework. Create face-to-face media-free human interactivity zones and times and prevent interference with mealtimes, family drives, recess, and other togetherness opportunities. Parents -- park your device before interacting with family. Charge devices in central common family areas subject to age-dependent limits on private use and alone time."
Dr. Schwarz outlines additional lifestyle changes that will help youngsters cope with their digital world now and in the future:
- Follow a simple tenet, "A device only belongs in my child's hands or in my home only if I am sure that it will enrich my children's development and my family's health."
- Make sure media are truly effective as educational, and not just claimed to be. Check with your child's teachers before you buy.
- Balance content, prioritizing family, values, social skills, and education while limiting entertainment.
- Tie media consumption to developmental age and maturity: Introduce preschoolers to various media only in a fully-involved, thoughtful and focused way; be flexible and respectful, and avoid major conflict; gradually expand privileges for responsible, mature kids to eventually allow media independence by mid to late teens; and accommodate special needs individuals.
- Teach that healthy media self-care is an ongoing process that starts early, like good hygiene and nutrition, and includes self-discipline, zeal for discovery essential for excellence, time and information management, and planning and organizational skills.
- Keep positive media consumption and its monitoring an ongoing family project and conversation topic.
- Use devices as much as possible for social, multi-person interactivity
- Gently and firmly introduce new rules
- Always focus children on how tech devices can benefit family life
- Include grandparents and siblings
- Use diverse free Internet content as well as apps to balance entertainment with enrichment of family relationships, socialization, values education, and extra-curricular learning to develop a well- rounded, informed, and competent children
- Demythologize the magic while at the same time appreciating the actual workings of these technologies and brilliant man-made design and engineering skills your kids too could someday emulate.
"I urge parents to take charge from the start, set rules, limit time, and provide a balance of experiences appropriate to the age and needs of each child," states Dr. Schwarz, also a researcher in technology use in play therapy and author of Kids, Parents & Technology: A Guide for Young Families.
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About the Author
Eitan Schwarz, MD FAACAP DLFAPA
Board-certified general and child and adolescent psychiatry. Education: Cornell, Johns Hopkins, and trained at the U of Chcgo, now Northwe
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