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Families, Pediatricians, and the Challenges of Digital Kids The Best of Times?

Donald Shifrin, MD1,2
[+] Author Affiliations
1Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle
2currently in private practice, Pediatric Associates, Bellevue, Washington
JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(5):401-402. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.151.
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Dickens’ use of anaphora at the beginning of his masterpiece A Tale of Two Cities reflects the paradox of the best and worst of times in 18th-century England and France. As a physician, I can relate the duality of discomfort and anxiety of his characters to parents I see daily struggling with the encroachment of technology on their family. Their question is eerily similar: “is it the age of media wisdom or foolishness, hope or despair?”

The specter of media as a challenging public health issue has been with us for more than 5 decades but never so prescient than in the recent past.1 As pediatricians, we need to acknowledge and address that fact. Eight years ago, the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (now JAMA Pediatrics) published its first theme issue on Media and Children (April 2006, volume 160, number 4). Articles detailing media’s behavioral influence on violence, attention span, obesity, nutritional choices, smoking, social interaction, and sexuality are just as salient today. Since 2006, it is difficult to name one area of our lives that the evolution of technology has not disrupted. Smarter smartphones and tablets now function as the newest media concierges, allowing media to become a ubiquitous and increasingly powerful presence in children’s physical and psychological environments. For example, the newest iPhone 5S (Apple Inc) is 100 times faster than the 2007 original. In 2010, 66% of children aged 4 to 7 years used a smartphone (The Joan Ganz Cooney Center [http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org]). Almost 40% of teens own a cell phone.2 These newer devices provide an anywhere, anytime portal to peer groups that guide children often to unacceptable choices and not as often to acceptable ones.

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