When my children were born, the cell phone had only been commercially available for a few years and was hardly considered a necessity. By the 90s, email had become popular and the World Wide Web was gaining momentum. In many ways, my children and commercial technology entered their early stages of development simultaneously. As our children grew my husband and I were mindful of the amount of technology we invited into our home and the pervasive influence it seemed to have on our children.
Social media was beginning to flood their computers where we had hoped their homework was taking place; and yet, the more we struggled to limit their exposure to technology, the more their curiosity piqued. We felt like dogs chasing our tails. At the time I was fearful of the unknown, a rapidly advancing high-tech world and how it might negatively affect the overall health of our children and our life as a family. However, we began to realize that the more we made our children part of the decision-making process, the better equipped they would be at making healthy decisions. I wish I had let go of my fears early on and approached technology with the same lens I now approach social and emotional health. It would have saved us all a lot of aggravation and stress. I have come to realize that most of my high-tech fears evolved from how little I understood about the ways technology could actually enhance our lives.
By 2012, my son was attending an out-of-state college and my daughter was leaving for Chiang Mai, Thailand, after accepting a teaching position there. Thailand’s position on the opposite side of the world separated us by approximately 12 hours and 8,200 miles. I was concerned about the physical distance Thailand might have on our relationship with our daughter and her relationship with her brother. I grew up in a home with a father who spent much of his time abroad traveling for work, and it created a strain on our family’s interpersonal relationships. I wanted to try and avoid having that happen to us.
Staying connected to my children and sharing their experiences trumped anything else of importance, so my husband surprised me with my first iPad Mini. Like the smartphone, the iPad is mobile and allowed me to see just as well as hear how they were doing from multiple locations, without the frustration of missed calls or the awkwardness of a large computer.
For three years, we bridged the divide with our iPads, using FaceTime and Skype. I could see my daughter as her “resident” lizard walked across the outside of her kitchen window while she made her morning coffee and while I cooked dinner. I watched as she snacked on local fruits, like lychee and dragon fruit, while we caught up. Then, in March 2014, I packed my iPad mini and headed to Chiang Mai. I used it to take pictures and create videos as I traveled the streets by foot and tuk tuk (Thai taxis), and then messaged them and shared them online.
In short, I realized as I walked the streets of Chiang Mai that my relationship with technology had made a 180-degree turn. Technology has allowed me opportunities to foster interpersonal connections using tools that were not available a decade before. And, while it cannot replace our physical and emotional need for more intimate and personal connections, it allows me a temporary vehicle to share experiences in collective ways with those who mean so much.
If I knew then what I know now…
Research Research suggests that media can help generate positive outcomes in children:
• Empathy: Children were able to explore values and empathize with the feelings of others where they were exposed to media characters that portrayed similar emotion;
• Altruism/helping: Children were twice as likely to share, engage in problem solving, and seek help for others compared to children in the neutral condition;
• Social interaction: With the support of teachers and parents, children were more likely to utilize prosocial language and build healthy social connections with peers compared to the control group;
• Acceptance of others and acceptance of diversity: Parents play a prominent role in helping children understand the importance of acceptance of others and acceptance of diversity when they express support for their child’s media character who also experienced issues of acceptance.
has shown that despite the possible associated risks, media can help promote a child’s sense of personal identity and their emerging sense of purpose. Media can also help children explore their values and provide prosocialPositive Sense + Social = Prosocial language that can help encourage sharing and problem solving, which can help children to build healthy social connections. However, identifying media that promote these qualities can be problematic. ResearchResearch suggesting media can help generate negative outcomes in children link: The consumption of violent media with increased violent behavior has shown that media can influence certain negative health effects in children including aggression, poor body image, cyber-bullying, drug and alcohol abuse, fear and anxiety, media addiction, poor nutrition, diminishing physical activity, promiscuous sexual behavior, and interrupted sleep patterns. Parents can feel overwhelmed by media’s omnipresent nature and may find it challenging when helping children navigate their media landscape and monitoring their media diet. The key is to empower parents so they can empower children to identify, create, and consume media in ways that augment their children’s social and emotional health & development.
I examine child health from two perspectives: general pediatricsPediatrics is a branch of medicine that focuses on the primary care of children. It offers a broad spectrum of preventative and curative health care services that focus on the promotion of health and wellness delivered in an outpatient setting. and pediatric psychologyPediatric psychology is a multi-disciplinary field of both scientific research and clinical practice, which attempts to address the psychological aspects of illness, injury, and promotion of health . This allows to me consider, equally, the importance a child’s physiological, psychological, and social healthPediatric psychologists believe that children have a set of “emotional competencies” that control they way they think and handle their own and others’ emotions. For example, a child’s ability to identify and label various emotions . Equipped with this knowledge SUNKISSED FAMILIES has developed the first child & adolescent Quick Reference Media Guide that scaffolds media use according to our collective view of its psychological and social influence on children and adolescents (0-18 yrs.).
Many of the conversations we engage in, the tools we use, and the knowledge we collect include media, making it essential for parents and educators to understand and create a healthy foundation from which children can thrive and confidently interpret the positive and negative heath impact media can have. We hope you’ll visit again and again and utilize our Child & Adolescent Quick Reference Media Guide as an introduction to media that can support your child’s social and emotional health.