Unplug Your Kids

Today’s youngsters inhabit a mesmerizing electronic world, but they need to spend time in the real one too.


With cell phones, iPods, iPads, twitter and Facebook, kids and teens nowadays can easily fill every waking hour electronically “plugged in.” But you, as a parent, need to make sure they don’t, says psychologist Rachel Busman, Psy.D., Clinical Director of the Child and Adolescent outpatient department at Westchester Medical Center’s behavioral health center.

Mind you, she’s no zealot. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with kids listening to music, playing video games or texting friends,” Dr. Busman says. “But if they’re doing these things all the time, that can get in the way of family, exercise, fresh air, chores that build a sense of responsibility and the developmentally critical confi dence gained from socializing face-to-face.”

“Virtual reality” is a sedentary place to hang out, says Dr. Busman. “And we all know there’s a huge problem with childhood obesity.” then there’s the issue of sleep. It’s been shown that most teens don’t get enough, and kids who have devices in their bedrooms may stay up too late texting. “If they are overstimulated, they can’t settle down at night,” she says. Finally, overimmersion in the cyber world can set some kids up for cyberbullying, in which thoughtless or cruel classmates invade their privacy or post hurtful taunts or putdowns online.

For all of these reasons, limiting time spent in the electronic world makes sense. Indeed, some kids are mature enough to know when to say “enough.” “I have worked with high school girls who decided to withdraw from social media—not send so many texts or instant messages, because they felt there was too much drama,” says Dr. Busman. “But it’s much harder for younger teens and middle schoolers to self-regulate.”

The solution: strong parenting. “You are allowed to use your authority,” she says. “Don’t apologize for being a parent. Plenty of research shows we help kids become self-sufficient by teaching them how to limit themselves.” Yes, she says, your kids will be mad at you. “No child says, ‘Please limit me,’” Dr. Busman says. “But too many parents have lost the sense that enforcing a structure for their kids is not only their prerogative, but also their responsibility. All kids do better when they know what parents expect and what will happen if they don’t comply. They look to us to set limits, even when they say they don’t like it.”


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