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time to talk

How to help kids manage the digital world

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The answer isn’t simple, but educators and mental health professionals agree that steps can be taken to combat the adverse affects of social media use.

Setting screen time limits, along with encouraging open communication about how kids are using social media apps, is key.

Promoting offline activities, such as sports and extracurricular clubs, and allowing kids to be bored with no screens in front of them, are also effective measures.

“The best thing we can do is have our kids know that they can talk to us about whatever it is that is coming up for them,” said Emily Laux, a pediatric psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Questions to ask, she said, include: “Why is my kid using this? What are they using it for? What benefits are they getting from it and how is it harmful? Maintain the positives and help them navigate the negatives coming up.”

Mental health experts say limiting screen time promotes healthy emotional and physical development in young people. Recommendations on screen time vary.

Laux recommends a half-hour to an hour a day for early adolescence. As kids grow older, it’s likely they will be able to handle more screen time, she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says parents should limit kids’ screen time to one to two hours per day.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends establishing a “screen-free” zone at home and having no televisions, computers or video games in children’s bedrooms.

Educators and mental health experts encourage parents to take advantage of informative websites, such as www.connectsafely.org, a website that details the latest apps and social media trends, and www.commonsensemedia.org, which provides examples of smartphone contracts parents can give to teens.

Wendy Strait, a counselor at Mountain Vista High School, has watched how social media has altered the way high school students interact. She’s considering waiting until her 10-year-old son is 18 years old before giving him a cellphone.

“He wants a phone, of course. He’s not going to get one — I don’t know if he will ever get one,” Strait said. “I would love to start a campaign that says ‘Bring the flip phone back,’ where all you can do is text.”

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