Thoughts on Electronics — and an Electronic-Free Day — for Kids

I often walk into an exam room and find one or more individuals on an electronic device – parents, grandparents, teenagers, even toddlers.

These devices come in all shapes and sizes, and the reason for their use varies from one situation to the next. Regardless of the intention, I insist upon an absolute guideline when I enter an exam room: the patient and the parent(s) become electronic-free.

I try my best to meet my end of the guideline by avoiding my computer as much as I can during the visit. Yet to be completely electronic free would limit me from relaying important information about the patient to the family and to my staff (like orders for procedures to the nurses and medical assistants, which I enter into the computer).

The value of undivided attention, of face-to-face conversation, is the core of communication at a medical visit. And it should also be part of our everyday lives.

I recently read, from a medical journal and a few sources online, about the trends of electronic use among the pediatric population ages 8-18. Here’s a summary of some numbers I found both interesting and concerning:

12 Years Old
The average age a child receives their first mobile device

56%
Children 8-12 years old who have a cell phone

25%
Children younger than 8 who have their own cell phone

37%
Teenagers (12-17 yrs) who have a smartphone

78%
Teenagers who have a cell phone

25%
Teenagers who access the internet mostly via cell phone

70%
Parents of teens with cell phones who review their teen’s text messages

39%
Teens who believe their parents monitor their cellphone

74%
Teens who  rely on their parents/adults for information about protecting themselves online

33%
Teenagers who prefer texting as favorite form of communicating with friends

53%
Children (8-17yrs) who report being in a car with someone texting and driving

6%
<8-year-olds who have their own tablet

77%
<12-year-old who download games to play on tablets

55%
Parents who use a tablet to entertain children while traveling

41%
Parents who use a tablet to entertain kids at a restaurant

<47%
Parents who know what their children are doing online

61-93%
Parents who talk to their teens about online safety

66%
Adolescents who have rules on cellphone use

53%
Parents who use some sort of parental control on electronic devices

61%
Teens who use privacy settings on social media sites

14%
Teens who posted their home addresses online

33%
Teens who feel more accepted online than in real life

90%
Kids ages 13-17 who report using social media (75% currently have a profile)

87%
Youths who report witnessing cyber-bullying

47
States with laws addressing electronic harassment

18
States whose laws specifically refer to “cyber-bullying”

43%
Kids 13-17 years old who report being a victim of “cyber bullying”

11%
Teens who reported cyber-bullying to their parents

These statistics are not from a scientific study, nor do they show a trend over a period of time. But they do highlight the commonality of any age group having a phone or tablet to communicate virtually, as well as the vulnerability of the virtual relationship leading to cyber bullying and exposure of privacy. There does, at least, seem to be a minority of parents who regulate the use of these electronic devices.

It’s extremely important for children to be kept safe, and to have limitations with these devices.

These statistics got me to think about my own family – and about teaching kids the value of the use of these devices without the negative possibilities and safety concerns. I often ask each of them what they’re doing on the device and give them a time limit. To take it one step further, my family adopted a new principle to work on…

An Electronic-Free Day

It’s simple in theory — but difficult in reality, when you think about it.

For one whole day (sun up to night-time sleep), we all — parents and kids alike — try not to use any electronic devices on the “do not use” list, unless we absolutely have to. The “do not use” devices include mobile phones, tablets, computers, gaming stations, TVs, and headphones. A radio is okay if the volume is kept low.

The goals of these electronic-free days are to foster physical activity and play, strengthen face-to-face communication, and develop ‘non-electrical’ talents. These days help you realize how everyday functions center on, and sometimes even depend on, these electronic items.

But on our Electronic-Free Day, we also realize the benefits of not using electronics: general happiness with relationships; relief of the stress of trying to know what’s going on everywhere in the world; imagination; breakfast/lunch/dinner conversations; and, most importantly, the realization that you do not need all these devices to stay connected as a family.

So I urge you to give it a try, and see if you and your family can achieve an electronic-free day.

Dr. Lucas Godinez, a Kids Plus Provider since 2004, is a shareholder in the practice.