“Finding Huck Finn: Reclaiming Childhood from a River of Electronic Streams” was a talk by Michael Rich, a Mediatrician and Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital. The Center for Parents and Teachers sponsored it along with the Concord Middle School PTG. The focus was on the technological world our children, or our “Digital Natives” live in, and how parents and teachers can help them navigate this world with mindfulness and discernment. They need the adults’ help and guidance, just as they need guidance and boundaries around the other areas of their lives.
Using the acronym MEDIA, Rich relayed the findings of multiple research studies with suggestions for media/technology use.
Media Matters: The message matters. All media is entertainment, which is not what many people think. They divide media as educational and entertainment, but kids learn from all media. The lessons they learn can be healthful or harmful.
Environment Matters: Encourage your teens to use media in common spaces. It helps the parent stay involved as well as the ability to observe task switching between homework and games, Facebook, and other distracting sites. Screen free mealtimes are encouraged as well as keeping all screens from television to cell phones out of their bedrooms. Screens can be very disruptive to needed sleep.
Developmental Stage Matters: Until their late20s, teens do not have fully developed pre-frontal lobes, which provides future thinking and impulse control. The more adults can help them think critically about their decisions the better. They can also be taught to approach their digital devices more mindfully and pay attention to when they switch between different applications, unconsciously.
Information Matters: Be a media role model and use media and technology the way you want your teens to use it For example, if you want screen free zones and times of day, be sure you adhere to the same guidelines. Teaching teens to evaluate their use of media and to think critically about the content is very important to their health.
Amount Matters: Teens should spend no more than 2 hours with screen media each day. Research shows that higher amounts are associated with negative health and development outcomes, like lower grades, poorer body image, and increased aggressive behavior. Rich suggests discussing all the activities a teen wants to complete in a day, instead of a punitive restriction of technology time. The more tasks they can complete media free or with focused media use the better. These include homework, sports and exercise, family meals, social time, and proper sleep.