(Island Packet (Hilton Head, SC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 23--We're three months into the new year, meaning your kids have pretty much mastered the electronics they got during the holidays -- that is, if they still have them.
Some have been dropped. Some have been lost. Some have been taken away for bad behavior, and we all know what happens when you take away a kid's tablet, laptop or cellphone for bad behavior. More bad behavior.
How technology is affecting children's health and the family dynamic is on the minds of many parents -- and grandparents -- especially as personal electronics become more ubiquitous, even among the toddler set.
It's on the minds of doctors, too. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that children younger than 3 should not be exposed to electronics, kids 3-5 should be limited to an hour a day and those 6-18 should be restricted to two hours a day.
Though it can sometimes seem like tablets and cellphones are replacing the need for genuine human interaction, electronics can be critical tools for learning, local parents say. They can be used for homework. They can strengthen the technological skills children will need in the future. They can even give nonverbal children the opportunity to communicate.
Bluffton mom Lynn Wiltse said having a Nook allows her 7-year-old son, Carter, to practice what he's learning in speech therapy.
Instead of sending paper homework home with Carter, his therapist has him do the exercises on his Nook.
Wiltse said the therapist does that because paper homework gets boring, and sometimes kids don't want to do the work. They play games on the Nook and don't even realize they're doing work.
Carter works on his "c" and "g" sounds using his Nook for 15 to 20 minutes a day, two or three times a week.
When you download a book on a Nook, you can record yourself reading it. Carter decided on his own to start recording himself reading. Then he listens to the recordings, and he can hear the letters he missed.
"That has helped him quite a bit," she said.
Twelve-year-old Bella Golden of Hilton Head Island spends several hours a day streaming TV shows on a laptop. She also likes to text her friends and will occasionally play Candy Crush on her iPhone.
Bella's mother, Carla Golden, would rather her daughter be outside playing than spending so much time staring at a screen. But Bella is an only child and there aren't other children in the neighborhood with whom she can play after school.
Bella goes to ballet classes three days a week, but on the days when she comes home right after school, she can usually be found in front of the laptop.
"If I were in her shoes, I'd probably be doing the same thing," Carla said.
Her daughter's use of the laptop is not ideal, Carla said, but at least she is learning. Bella likes to watch educational programs, and her mother said she retains a lot of what she learns.
Her daughter is so good on a computer that she has taught her teachers at Sea Pines Montessori School how to do a few things, Carla said.
Bella loves learning about places around the world. She loves watching the Food Network. She has learned how to cook different recipes. She even taught her mom some geography. She often retells the stories she sees on the laptop, and sometimes even acts them out.
"Maybe one day she will go into movie production or script writing or set design," she said. "It's not just a numbing, passive thing where she checks out. She's interested, and she's taking something from it."
On top of the educational help these devices offer, they are also useful in keeping children preoccupied on long road trips or while sitting in a doctor's office. And let's be honest -- they do come in handy when Mom and Dad want to sleep in late on Saturday mornings.
But overuse and early electronic stimulation increase the risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, Hilton Head Island pediatrician Dr. Lance Lowe said.
He strongly agrees with the American Academy of Pediatrics report calling for use limitations.
"There's no question that if you have a child that's fussing and irritable and you put a video screen in front of him, (he is) going to be happier," Lowe said. "But it's not a very good method of changing the behavior because you're stimulating that part of the brain that requires that, and that's a very different part of the brain than you'd use for sitting down and reading a book or sitting down and doing a math problem. It's a very different part of the brain, and that part of the brain becomes almost dominant."
Lowe said he recently saw a teenage patient who spends about six hours a day on her iPad.
"Over the course of a year, that's three months," he said. "That's 90 days of doing nothing but looking at a computer screen. That's what our kids are growing up doing."
Studies have linked technology use in children not only to attention deficit disorder, but to delayed development, increased obesity, sleep deprivation, mental illness, aggression and addiction.
On top of that, the World Health Organization classified cellphones and other wireless devices as a category 2B risk, which means they are possible carcinogens.
Then there's the social aspect. Go just about anywhere, and you will see kids attached to their devices. Some won't even look up at you when you speak to them because they're too busy staring at their iPads.
That kind of behavior is what led S.C. Rep. Shannon Erickson to initiate a "no electronics" policy at her three preschools in Beaufort.
Children are not allowed to bring handheld devices to Hobbit Hill Preschools, and parents are asked to refrain from using cellphones in the schools.
Erickson has worked in early childhood education for 25 years and has two of her own children, who are now grown.
"We were probably not the cool parents," she said. "Our children did not have TVs in their rooms. We had one television in the house. We didn't have cable until they were 10, 12, something like that. And we only had one computer in our house."
Erickson does not discount the importance of technology. She simply believes interaction with teachers, parents and other children is much more beneficial. She keeps technology to a minimum in her preschools. They do have computers in the classrooms, but they are used sparingly. They are used to enhance lessons, but they are not used for the kids to play educational games.
"For us, that can be done much more effectively with human interaction," she said.
Carter Wiltse's brother Corbin, 9, also has his own Nook, which he uses for reading and games. They both read 20 minutes a day, either in a book or on the Nook.
Aside from reading and therapy, the boys' time on the devices is very limited. They only get to play about 30 minutes a day, and that's only if they have done something great to earn the reward.
And while the boys' sister, 23-month-old Carolina, is too young for her own Nook, she does know how to turn it on. She also knows what button to push to hear books on the devices.
"It's easy for it to overtake your life if you let it," Lynn Wiltse said. "You just have to make sure you have limits for yourself and for the kids. If you're constantly on your phone or tablet or laptop or whatever, they're going to think it's OK. You have to have face-to-face contact with people, especially your family."
Just as is true with other enjoyable things in life, moderation is key.
"We've got to really do a good job to make sure that we don't put our children at risk by simply not being aware," Erickson said. "Be aware of how long they're on certain games and what games particularly that they may be playing."
Follow reporter Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.
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