From the category archives:

Ask the Mediatrician

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via cmch@childrens.harvard.edu and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Q: We like to stream music from Pandora for my kids, who are in first and second grade. Pop dance music is fun and upbeat, and my children love it. But there is a big jump in maturity from Laurie Berkner and Kids Bop to Today’s Top Hits. And though there are lots of controls to set for Internet, TV, and movies, I can’t really find any for music. What are my monitoring options for streaming music?

-Mystified by Music

A: Dear Mystified,

Music is wonderful for kids! Whether they sing along or dance to the rhythm, music can engage them in melodies, develop language skills, and encourage them to move with imagination. You can share with them the music you love, and there is excellent music created especially for kids of different ages in terms of message, rhythm, and sing-along-ability. Full story »

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When and how should I introduce screens to my 2½ year old?

by Michael Rich MD MPH on February 3, 2014

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via cmch@childrens.harvard.edu and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Q: I have a 2½ year old, and so far, per the advice of our pediatrician, she has had no screen time. However, I have heard that educational television, such as Sesame Street, can be useful to offer in small doses after the age of two. My inclination is to continue not to offer her screen time, as I am worried that she will want to spend lots of time in front of screens (television, iPad, phone, etc.), and right now she spends most of her day reading, doing puzzles, and in imaginary play. At what point does it make sense to introduce screen time, and in what manner?
-Mindful Mom, in Washington, DC Full story »

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Should I read my 14-year-old’s text messages?

by Michael Rich MD MPH on January 20, 2014

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via cmch@childrens.harvard.edu and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Q: Should I read my 14 year old daughter’s text messages?  I want to make sure she is safe and that she isn’t using her phone late at night.  She feels that I check her texts because I don’t trust her, but I feel that as a parent (who also pays for the phone), it is my job to make sure she is safe.

-Troubled about texting, Denver, CO

A: Your question is an important one and highlights issues that many parents deal with when it comes to being aware of a child’s activities. Make it clear to your daughter that you do trust her to do the best she can in any situation, and that you are showing that trust by providing her with a cell phone.

It is important for you, as her parent, to help guide and teach your daughter to use this powerful technology effectively on her own and in ways that promote her becoming the kind of person that she wants to become. Just as you will sit in the front seat with her as she learns to drive, your awareness of her digital activities is your way of guiding and supporting her as she learns to use this powerful tool effectively, safely, and respectfully. As her parent, you have a wealth of experience that you can share, not to restrict, but to help her learn from mistakes made by you or others rather than making them herself. Full story »

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How can I monitor my 12-year-old daughter’s use of Instagram?

by Michael Rich MD MPH on January 6, 2014

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via cmch@childrens.harvard.edu and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Q: I am trying to monitor my 12-year-old daughter’s use of Instagram and am wondering if there is a way to find any ‘secret storage’ spaces on her smartphone. I am not too concerned right now, but in the future I would like to know how to access it. Instagram is the only social media platform I allow her to use at this point, but I am concerned that it is just as bad as Facebook. I am considering banning her from using it based on what I have seen other kids post.
-Iffy about Instagram, Rockport, MA

A: First, it is important for parents to be aware that social media are restricted by law to children 13 and older, because these sites target their users for marketing—and kids haven’t fully developed the cognitive ability to understand that the personalized messages they receive are selling them a product or idea. Most importantly, however, on Instagram your daughter is sending and receiving images over the World Wide Web, where they travel quickly, spread broadly, and are “sticky”–they will exist essentially forever on hard drives somewhere in the world.

There are a number of apps available that allow users like your daughter to hide images and messages, and these apps are constantly changing. So instead of focusing your efforts on finding your daughter’s secret Instagram stash, adjust your focus. Share and teach media use with your daughter, just as you will sit in the front seat of the car when she learns to drive. The privacy and secrecy with which young people use media is not an inherent right; it has evolved because many parents have defaulted their parenting role in the digital domain. Help your daughter make decisions about photo sharing—and all social media activities—in ways that are effective, safe, and respect themselves and others. To do that, establish an ‘open-screen policy’ that includes you in her social media exchanges:

  • Cyber space is not private space. sure your daughter understands that her on-line life is not separate from her ‘real’ life, and that you are her parent both on- and off-line. Children need guidance when using internet because they don’t yet fully understand or value privacy the way they will when they mature, they don’t know how to protect their reputations, and they can’t foresee the future repercussions that may occur.
  • Educate yourself. Be sure that you know how to use the applications, sites, and accounts you allow your daughter to use. Familiarizing yourself with on-line content prior to giving your daughter permission to engage with it will ensure that it is developmentally optimal, and will give you a better understanding of her internet and social media activities.
  • Be a co-member on all media accounts. Unless you are completely comfortable allowing your daughter to go to an unchaperoned party, sign up for on-line activities with her, using a username and password you both can access. This way she knows that you will have the ability to check in on her activity at random intervals, and that you are maintaining an open dialogue about her on-line activity, available to mentor and support her should an issue arise.

A large part of parenting in the digital domain is taking your everyday parenting know-how and applying it to the digital environment in which your children are growing up. You are more prepared and qualified than you think–human development has not changed, the environment has. You can learn it from and with your daughter, turning a source of worry into an opportunity for bonding.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®

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Do eReaders harm children’s eyes?

by Michael Rich MD MPH on December 9, 2013

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via cmch@childrens.harvard.edu and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Q: We recently bought eReaders for our sons, ages 5 and 7. I am wondering if we should treat the time they spend reading on these devices the same as the time they spend reading library books or books from their own bookshelf? Also, I know that generally the concern around screen time is with attention issues, but are there any adverse consequences for vision associated with reading an eReader as opposed to a printed book?
~eCurious from Grand Isle, VT

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Never learning violence

by Michael Rich MD MPH on November 25, 2013

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via cmch@childrens.harvard.edu and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Last week, the New York Times featured an article entitled “Unlearning Gun Violence”, which discussed the work of an epidemiologist who, after a decade of fighting TB, HIV, and cholera in Africa, returned to a life-threatening epidemic in his hometown of Chicago—violence. He uses the same techniques that worked in Africa, teaching perpetrators and victims of violence to prevent recurrence of this deadly cycle. Such secondary and tertiary prevention is effective—but after the fact. Prevention of future violence can only happen after violence has occurred, identifying those at risk for aggression and victimization.

One day earlier, a research report in Pediatrics detailed the dramatic increase in gun violence in PG-13 movies, tripling over the past 3 decades. Movies that any child can watch (hopefully, but not necessarily with parental guidance) are now more violent than those that are restricted to those 17 or older unless accompanied by an adult. One day later, I was asked to present research in support of a bill in the Massachusetts Senate that would appoint an expert commission to study whether and how video games and other interactive media influence and teach their users. Full story »

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Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Q: My kids (10 and 7) have been invited to a number of Halloween-themed parties this year that are being held at their schools and at the homes of a few of their friends. Several of these parties will have scary movies, scary music, and in one case (the school’s) a dramatic reading of a scary book. I’m concerned that while all of these media are “for kids”, my kids may be too scared by them. Neither of my children particularly love Halloween, and two years ago, my eldest saw a relatively tame scary movie that gave her nightmares for weeks! How can I tell what scary media will be okay for my kids and which media they should avoid?

~In Need of Halloween Help in Lincoln, NH

A: Dear Halloween,

Our culture embraces scary media as entertainment in part because it can draw quick and reliable responses from the broadest audience—the primal human response of fear crosses cultural and language barriers with ease. Normal human response to something we fear is to avoid it, as your children are doing, or to attempt to master it, by seeing it over and over again.  Many parents want their children to master fear, believing that it will strengthen and prepare them for the “real world”. Avoidance, however, may be the healthier response—not only is it a survival skill that helps your children recognize and avoid danger, but it is also an expression of their natural empathy for others—they don’t want to see others threatened or hurt. Full story »

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A recent study revealed information that many parents may find troubling: nearly one in 10 young people have engaged in some type of sexual violence, by either coercing or forcing some type of sexual contact upon someone else. The study also suggests a connection between this behavior and being exposed to violent pornographic images. Michael Rich, MD, MPH, Boston Children’s media expert and director of the Center on Media and Child Health, shares his thoughts on what parents need to take away from this eye-opening report.

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Investigating a health risk behavior once thought to be restricted to adults, research published last week in JAMA Pediatrics found that nearly 10 percent of adolescents reported having forced sex with others or committing sexual violence. The most frequent age of first committing sexual violence was 16; 98 percent of those who first committed sexual violence at 15 or younger were male, but by 18 and 19, males (52 percent) and females (48 percent) were equally involved.

Those who reportedly committed sexual violence were significantly more likely to have used media that portrayed violent sex (hurting a partner while having sex), sexual situations (kissing, fondling and non-violent sex) and non-sexual violence (fighting, shooting and killing), as opposed to those who reported not committing sexual violence.

Research on the effects of violent media has shown that while “copycat” imitation of media may be rare, exposure to media violence shifts expectations about violence for many users who come to accept it as a means of resolving conflicts, are more likely to use it and are less likely to defend its victims. Full story »

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