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Should we ban handheld devices for 12 and under?

A pediatric occupational therapist recently called for a ban in the usage of all handheld devices for children under the age of 12 years. A few Healthy Kids experts weigh in on this idea.

Interrupting rapid brain growth for babies, sleep deprivation, and delayed development –  These were a few reasons a pediatric occupational therapist recently called for parents, teachers, and governments to ban the use of all handheld devices for children under the age of 12.

The Huffington Post article drew over 2.3 million "likes" on Facebook and other postings from Huffington Post contributors who found the research cited as flawed. I checked in with a few of our Healthy Kids contributors to find out their thoughts on the topic. Is banning handheld devices for 12 and under too extreme? Here's what they had to say:

"The trouble with electronic devices is that they do not teach a child how to play with others. At first, children play in parallel – they play next to each other, but not with each other. Sometime between 15 months and 24 months they start to interact, responding to each other as their language skills grow.  By 3 years, the child can take turns and verbally respond to each other. Then by 4 or 5, they can make teams and play sports to some extent.  Spending all their time just playing alone or a tablet builds none of skills they need as adults. This "bowling alone" culture does not build societies, just isolated individuals.

I think a ban is unrealistic since most of the parents (at least in my office) never take their faces off their screens to interact with their children."  – Gary A. Emmett, M.D., F.A.A.P, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital & Thomas Jefferson University

"While I wholeheartedly agree that the overuse of handheld technology by children and adults is negatively affecting the social, emotional and physical well-being of all of us, the call to "ban" gives me pause. "Banning" and "zero tolerance" policies have a long history of failure, as it requires outside enforcement of these practices, which typically includes punishment for offenses.

Technology is here to stay, and we have no idea what the technological world will look like for our children in five years, not to mention 10 years. We have a responsibility to prepare our children for the future they will inhabit. We should invest in TEACHING children and parents the developmentally appropriate use of technology and how to do so in moderation. I am much more comfortable with a call to EDUCATE and EMPOWER parents and children in the use of technology, rather than a call to ban."  – Jessica Kendorski, PhD, NCSP, BCBA-D, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

"Yes, banning handhelds for user 12 is too extreme. Parents can approach this developmentally, with kids using devices under supervision, taking advantage of all of the electronic safeguards available (such as filters and firewalls) then gradually letting kids have more alone time, so by the time a child has free use of their devices, they've been taught good habits and values.

Parents should monitor the use of devices well into the teens; a great many of online predators investigated by law enforcement come to light when a parent monitored their child's online activities." – Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America

As for myself, I take the approach of using handheld devices (or any screen time for that matter) in moderation. My 6 and 3-year-old play with each other every afternoon before I turn on a TV before dinner. (This week, they've been reenacting the Nutcracker with stuffed animals after seeing a performance earlier this month. It's pretty fun to watch!) Once and awhile, they'll play an app on my phone or play educational apps on a tablet. I know that I need to a do a better job at times with my handheld device usage at times. I admit that I've been guilty of being sucked into my Facebook feed.

Janet, who commented above, pointed me in the direction of a recent Atlantic article on the topic, which described various approaches parents can take to screen time with their kids. It appears "digital mentors," those who play an active role in guiding their kids onto the Internet, may be the most successful in preparing their kids for a world filled with screens. I hope to lead my kids with this approach, especially as they get older.

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