With the well child exam already jam packed with topics to hit upon in an increasingly shortened visit, the general pediatrician may be inclined not to address the new realm of cyber-life and the issues it has created for our patients and their parents.
However, there are some quick questions we can ask and words of wisdom we can provide, which can be worked into the visit without much additional time or effort.
1. How many hours of sleep do you get a night? Do you keep your cell phone or computer in your bedroom while you are sleeping?
Many kids and teens charge their cell phones and laptops in their rooms overnight. Parents may complain that their children are up to the wee hours of the morning playing games or chatting with friends. Some parents may be unaware that their child is getting texts or calls during the night awakening them and interrupting their sleep.
We can empower parents to take control of this behavior by instituting a curfew for these devices as well as a designated place for them to charge, such as a common room in the house or in the parent’s bedroom.
2. Do you communicate with your friends on-line? Have you ever felt harassed, bullied or teased by someone on-line?
Many children and teens do not understand that everything they post on the Internet will live on as a digital footprint which may come back to haunt them years later, such as at a job or college admission interview. Children need to be taught where the appropriate boundaries are for on-line communication. In addition, cyber-bullying is increasingly common and can have devastating effects on the recipient.
Encourage parents to open an account on their children’s social network site and “friend” them, so that they can monitor their virtual world and help them learn how to live in it safely.
3. How much time do you spend in front of a screen, such as a TV, computer, or smart phone a day?
According to the AAP, children and teens should not spend more than 2 hours a day in front of a screen and should get a minimum of 1 hour a day of physical activity.
Advise parents to set rules in their homes encouraging children to get their 1 hour of outdoor play or physical activity before they can use their 2 hours of screen time.