July 26, 2014

Tool or Toy? And What Do They Cost You?

Gayle Schrier Smith, MD, FAAP
adapted from a post originally in PartnersinPediatrics

Tool or toy?” I have begun to ask my patients and their parents.  “How do you see screen time in your home?” It occurred to me that if I wanted to influence families, I needed to consistently ask about ways in which they viewed technology and media regardless of the age and stage of their child’s life. And I needed a memorable sound-bite.

There are families who have never given much thought to media consumption. Some have a single TV, and it’s always on in the den.  Others have every tech device on the market and are so busy waiting in line for the next one that the idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ media consumption has not even occurred to them. Most families, of course, are somewhere in the middle.

It often feels as if there are increasing numbers of families who rely on the ‘experts,’ many of whom they find through an Internet search, and I struggle with this reality. I want them to rely on face-time with pediatricians in equal measure.  If parents are to consume and work to apply every bit of child-rearing advice they find, I also want them to have confidence in personal judgment, especially with respect to media and technology. Pediatricians are in a unique position to help parents answer questions like “how much screen time is OK?”  And the response is rarely cookie-cutter black and white.

The AAP policy to restrict screen time completely for children under two is a big stumbling block for some parents. “Really, I can’t even have Oprah on while my toddler is in the room?” It would be useful to cultivate the parent’s ability to see how often and in what context screen time is present in family life. A careful look at the variety and quantity of screen time should be purposeful and deliberate, and in many ways may be more meaningful than simply tallying up hours spent in front of a screen. 

Gayle Schrier Smith, MD, FAAP
adapted from a post from PartnersinPediatrics

To bring awareness to the many screens that surround us, I have begun to ask my patients and their parents, “Tool or Toy? How do you see screen time in your home, and what does it cost you?” Tools live in the world of work, learning and efficiency (something grown-ups value.) Toys define the world of fun, relaxation and play. Both have their place in healthy families, and I would argue that each role is valuable to consider if it is the intention of parents to serve up a healthy media diet.  The cost of screen time is both monetary in what our devices cost, but also in the price of lost time…  that face to face encounter we want to have with one another.

As I have begun to talk more about the importance of a balanced media diet, the ‘tools and toys’ image has been useful to open those conversations. The sound-bite doesn’t feel judgmental to me, nor does it feel as though I am endorsing any one view of screen time over another. I sometimes share ways in which my iPhone is both a tool and toy, but I am also honest in saying that I have begun to monitor my own ‘play’ time on it.

There is a rapidly changing landscape of available media tools and toys, and they are, to some degree, both good and bad for how they influence  children. It is simply time for pediatricians  to leverage our ability to engage families, and ask them to learn with us as we all expand our expertise, with evidence-based ideas tested by time and research. It is only with a meaningful and ongoing partnership that we will really understand how much screen time is enough or too much.  Meanwhile, a screen time question at every wellness visit will certainly create value for families and a memorable sound- bite.  “Tool or Toy” may serve as a frequent reminder that screens are both tool and toy, that they are present everywhere and should be purposefully balanced in a family’s life.

July 1, 2014

Is There An Unlocked Gun in Your House?

By Peggy Stager, M.D. FAAP
Originally posted on YourTeenMag.com

Did you know that 1 in 3 homes in America with children have guns?  Guns are the second leading cause of death among children and teens, and there are over 15,000 youth injured or killed by guns every year. One question could save your child’s life.  The American Academy of Pediatrics is sponsoring the ASK campaign, encouraging parents to ask one simple question.  When your pre-teen or teen goes to a friend’s house to hang out, do you know if that house has a gun in it?  The AAP recommends that you call the other parent and ask, “Is there an unlocked gun in your house?” 42% of parents with guns keep at least one gun unlocked and 25% of parents with guns keep at least one gun always loaded.  Most of the time, the teens know where the guns are kept in the home.  This means that curious teens, especially bored teens, might go looking for that gun, or find it while looking for something else.  There have been too many injuries and deaths from unlocked guns in the home because the teen didn’t think the gun was loaded, was “playing around”, and accidentally shot his friend.  It doesn’t have to be this way. As a parent, you already know what it is like to ask awkward or uncomfortable questions to other parents like, “Are you going to be home tonight when the girls are there?”,  “I think the boys may have been drinking last night.  Did you notice that too?”  While this may feel uncomfortable at first, keep in mind you are asking in your teen’s best interest.  Besides, what is the worst thing that could happen?  A parent may be offended, or even laugh at you.  But in the long run one simple question may save a teen’s life. 

June 24, 2014

Media and Your Teen -- Ask them to DECIDE

Kate Land, MD FAAP

The American Academy of Pediatrics has clear words for parents seeking advice about screen time limits for children. No screen time for kids under 2 and no more that 2 hours a day for kids over 2. Less is better and content matters.

While I find these guidelines challenging in my office and in my home, my mother would have had no trouble enforcing these guidelines with me - for most of my childhood we did not have a television. I remember mornings in junior high school as being rough. Not only because it was too early and too cold to want to get out of bed but also because once I made it to school everyone around me was discussing last night's episode of this or that show. I tried to look casual and preoccupied while they sounded so.... cool.

As a Pediatrician, I understand the social power that being up-to-date with the latest show, game or video has. Being connected on each of the latest social media tools be they Instagram, Vine or Snapchat, matters on today's Monday mornings.

However, I want my teens and my teen patients to turn off their screens more. I know that doing so will broaden their horizons and shrink their waistlines. They also on some level, get this. It isn’t easy to translate advice and understanding into action. Teens especially do not like to accept rules made for them without their input and buy-in. At my house, I always begin change with a discussion around the dinner table. It is a perfect chance to ask and listen. 

It is perhaps ironic that I found some words to inspire teens to turn off their screens from a recent episode of Grey's Anatomy. They have just the right touch of inspirational simplicity that appeals to the Pinterest set:

We are all going to die. We don't get to decide where or when.
But we do get to decide how we are going to live. So do it.
Is this the life you want to live? Is this the person you want to love?
Is this the best you can be? Can you be stronger, kinder, more compassionate?
Breathe in, breathe out and decide.

When you put it this way, few kids would choose to spend their time in front of a screen and definitely not the average of seven hours a day that our kids are currently spending. Tonight at dinner, ask your kids to decide. Then take action and come up with a plan together for media use in your home.
For ideas about how to decrease your family's media use see “How to Make a Family Media Use Plan” at the AAP’s parent web page healthychildren.org.

May 17, 2014

Can kids learn from TV? Or, are we kidding our selves?

"Sid The Science Kid: TV" show review by COCM member Don Shifrin, M.D., F.A.A.P, as seen in the NY Times, September 1, 2008:

By Neil Genzlinger (bolding for emphasis by Don Shifrin, MD, FAAP), New York Times

"If it takes a village, then we should all be concerned about Sid. The lad is only maybe 3 or 4, but already it’s obvious that he’s headed for trouble.

Sid is the host of “Sid the Science Kid,” a series for preschoolers that begins Monday on PBS. And he has a desperate-for-attention problem that is only moderately irksome now, but when he’s older will lead him to either put those oversize tires on the back of his car or seek a career in musical theater.

PBS is employing Sid, who is animated in a process called digital puppetry, as an ambassador for what education20types might call science readiness. His show, done in that hyperactive style that adults have determined is what the very young prefer, seeks to put across the fundamentals of science.

How fundamental? The first episode is all about charts. Sid makes a chart to record how many chores he has done, since once he has done enough he will get a new Turbo Robot Megaship toy. In school he and his classmates make charts of which kid has brought what snack to school. What does this have to do with science? Well, um, scientists use charts a lot, and, uh, that’s pretty much it.

There’s no point in trying to analyze whether this show will accomplish its educational objective, because who knows, really, what speaks to small children? So the only thing to do with “Sid the Science Kid” is to ponder it as a sociological statement.

Sid is never without his toy microphone, which he is constantly yapping into or shoving in other people’s faces. He is, in other words, always performing. So are many of the other characters, including his teacher. It’s no accident that one recurring feature of the show, a joke of the day, is delivered via portholes reminiscent of the “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” wall. This is introductory science tailored for the age of self-indulgence and short attention spans.

The show bears the Jim Henson Comp any’s name, so it probably has merit. Still, it’s hard not to think that the only bearable person in this animated world is Sid’s grandmother, who points out to him that she never needed to be bribed with the promise of a new gewgaw to do her chores. Take it from Grandma, kid: Life is not your own personal TV show, and sometimes — a lot of the time, actually — you need to just sit down, shut up and do the work."

Dr. Don's 2cents:
OK, so the take on this 'new' form of PBS entertainment in the genre of Jimmy Neutron, boy genius is, inevitably, flawed.

Over and over we find that programming from toddlerhood to teens is replete with features geared to induce or is it produce short attention spans.
Note here that the great Jon Stewart started out professional life on Comedy Central's short attention span theater which ran from 1989-1994.
This is not definable learning, as no research will be done as to the impact of the 'lessons' featured, but another controversial point in the ongoing discussion about 2-D versus 3-D interactive learning.

And when these shows go 'virtually' into the digital interactive world where children can touch the screen or digitally participate in their 'learning', will it be a thoughtful, focused exercise, or will it be just more buttons to push quickly.

Already there is concern over the way children-and adults read in digital formats versus traditional reading styles. See the August issue of Atlantic Monthly where Nicolas Carr has written a 4000 word article, Is Google Making Us Stupid"?
As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

Do parents see this coming, or, are they too, drowning in a sea of media that they think is well-intended to prepare and instruct their children faster and better than they ever could using past methods?
Who among us is likely to shout out at the passing parade of web, TV, DVD, and read-along devices, " the Emperor has no clothes"............

Opportunity, Means, And Motive

David Hill MD, FAAP

“So, Doctor, what are some things people can do about this problem?” If you’ve ever faced a reporter then you’ve probably answered some version of this question. If you had adequate time to prepare, you may have even emailed your advice in advance to provide bullet points for the graphic. This is, after all, “news you can use!” (What would they call it if “news” and “use” didn’t rhyme?)

But do you ever wonder how many people actually do the stuff you recommend? I imagine it depends in part on the nature of the advice. “Keep your children indoors while these wildfires rage,” probably sees a lot of takers. “Be sure and get your child’s flu vaccine this season,” wins some, if not as many as we’d like. “Don’t let your child have a television in his bedroom,” gets...(crickets).

What do we hope to accomplish as pediatricians by engaging the media, aside of course from the fame, fortune, and autograph-seekers we so enjoy? Personally, I hope to extend my mission beyond the exam room into people’s living rooms, where my advice can help children live healthier lives. But if that’s our goal, how can we be best accomplish it?

In the clinic, I know the answer. My career has spanned the transition from a paternalistic model of behavior change (“Of course you’ll do what I say; can’t you see how crisply pressed my white coat is?”) to the awkwardly named transtheoretical model (“So is it okay if we talk for a moment about your habit of sharing cigarettes with your child?”). This transition has given birth to motivational interviewing, a technique that pretty much blows everything else out of the water when it comes to helping people embrace healthier behaviors.

Motivational interviewing is far too involved to fully explain in this space, but the four core concepts are pithy enough to hit. The first idea, “express empathy,” suggests we start by listening to where our patients are coming from and trying to connect, i.e., “I can see how smoking with your child gives you two a chance to bond.”

Second comes, “develop discrepancy,” meaning to help patients see how their current behaviors might lead to outcomes they don’t desire, as in, “You’ve said you wished you could quit smoking. How do you feel about your child smoking?” Third, and most alliterative, is, “roll with resistance,” meaning we must accept that patients’ reluctance to change is a normal part of human nature and not a moral failure, like, “It sounds as though you feel the time you share smoking with your child is strengthening your relationship. I see why you might not want to give that up.” 

This leads to the final step, “support self-efficacy,” a toughie; both because it’s nearly impossible to say three times fast and because it doesn’t just mean being supportive when patients do what we suggest. It means being equally supportive when they don’t, as in, “I’ve enjoyed our conversation today. If we can talk about this smoking thing again some time, please let me know!”

Motivational interviewing isn’t magic, but when practiced one-on-one it has posted impressive results for changing behaviors ranging from overeating to alcohol abuse. The question I struggle with is how to make this face-to-face intervention work when addressing a whole population, as we do in the media. Can we ask what people’s most common reasons are for, say, not vaccinating their kids? (It turns out more parents are worried about pain and fever than about autism.) Can we show empathy for those in our audience who may resist change, citing those reasons? Can we avoid moralistic language when talking about people whose decisions we think are unwise?

I don’t pretend to have mastered the art of translating motivational interviewing techniques to a sound bite that may last well under a minute. I do think, however, that those of us who can pull off that trick will be the most effective medical communicators ever. As for myself, I can live without autograph-seekers. I wouldn’t want them to wrinkle my white coat.

May 5, 2014

Screen Free Week Impossible – Try Screen Awareness

Corinn Cross, M.D.

National Screen Free Week is upon us again.  It begins today, Monday May 5th, and concludes Sunday May 11th.

All families are encouraged to observe Screen Free Week but as our culture becomes increasingly intertwined with screens, how to limit screen time and increase awareness has become immensely more challenging.

Originally, Screen Free week was TV Turn-off week. Easy enough, 1 week, no TV.  But now screens are everywhere and needed for everything, emails, social networking. They are used in school for school work and communicating with parents and often needed for homework.  It seems almost impossible to go an entire day, never mind a week without using a screen.

So, what is a common sense parent to do?

Understand the reasoning behind Screen Free week. Although some screen time is at this point necessary for most teens and adults, there are ways that we can scale back unnecessary screen time and open up more time for other activities:  reading, socializing in person with friends and family, going outside, exercising.

I think a more appropriate name for the upcoming week would be Screen Awareness Week. In this way, the task seems much more manageable. Use Screen Free week to take an inventory of how much time you and your family are spending on screens and try instituting plans on how to monitor that time and dedicate screen free periods throughout the day.

To take advantage of Screen Free Week and make it successful in your home, start by making a plan and having a goal. Discuss with your family the expectations and limits for the week.

Simple suggestions for families include:
  • Designate a drop area for cell phones when you walk in the door. Cell phones should go here during screen free times and at night to charge.  Cell phones should not be left in a child or teens room overnight to charge, but should be either in a public room or the parent’s bedroom.
  • Set a time or times throughout the day when you will not use screens, laptops or smartphones. Ideally for Screen Free week this would be all the time that a child is home but realistically most families may find that a shorter period of time is both do-able and more importantly sustainable. Start with 2 or 3 hours once you get home from school - unless it is for homework, and of course no screens or phones during dinner
  • Disconnect from unnecessary digital interactions. Take a week vacation from social networking sites and surfing the web. Use this time to discuss privacy settings and appropriate on-line behavior with your children and teens.
  • Check in with your kids about cyber-bullying and what to do if they experience it or more likely, witness it.  
  • Turn the TV off for 1 week and when you go back to TV remember no screen time for children under 2 years of age and only 2 hours of TV for older kids and teens.

Use Screen Free Week as an opportunity to reassess your family’s media use. At the end of the week, discuss with your family how the week went. Was it easier or harder than expected?  What changes do you want to continue with as a family? Did any of the changes you made have a positive impact? You may find that you would like to have a TV free night once a week or an hour or two every evening when all screens are turned off.  Most families find that when they can disconnect -- even a little, they can reconnect with each other a whole lot.

For more information about Screen Free Week, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics parent’s website healthychildren.org.

February 14, 2014

Friday Night Tykes - Letter from the AAP to NBCUniversal

This latest update to the COCM Blog shows the work of the AAP in action. In January 2014, the Esquire Network began airing a new reality series called “Friday Night Tykes,” which follows several teams of 8-year-olds playing in a competitive football league in Texas. The coaches are depicted encouraging athletes to injure players on the other team, forcing athletes to run to the point of exhaustion and nausea, ignoring basic safety precautions and verbally harassing the young athletes. Recently, two of the coaches have been suspended by the league for encouraging dangerous play or bad behavior. Members of both the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness and the Council on Communications and Media urged the AAP to communicate with the show regarding activities that are putting children at risk, and concerns about exploiting children for the sake of entertainment. This is the letter that went to NBC, the parent company of the Esquire Network.

February 11, 2014

Stephen B. Burke CEO and President NBCUniversal
30 Rockefeller Plaza New York, NY 10009

Dear Mr. Burke:

On behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a non-profit professional organization of more than 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical sub-specialists, and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety, and well-being of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults, I write to express our concerns regarding “Friday Night Tykes,” a “reality” television show which began airing on the Esquire Network, a division of NBCUniversal, in January 2014. The intent of the program appears to be to spark a national conversation on “how much competition is too much?,” but we are deeply concerned about the children on these teams, who are subjected to unsafe practices while adults stand back and watch or in some instances, bully them. And all of this is filmed as a means of entertainment.

Pediatricians have long advocated to create safe environments for children participating in sports, including football. This includes acclimating children to the heat and weather conditions, teaching proper tackling techniques to avoid injury, and wearing the appropriate football equipment at all times. The AAP has also advocated for stricter laws so children who may have had concussion must sit out until evaluated by medical professionals. ”Friday Night Tykes” does not seem to take into account any of the medical advice that we or other nationally recognized health professionals have suggested.

In addition to the safety concerns, we are alarmed by the message delivered by coaches on the show who threaten to bench or dismiss from the team players who do not comply with demands. At this age, these children want to make their coaches and parents proud. While the coaches believe they are raising a disciplined team, these threats instead increase the children’s tolerance for being bullied. Research has shown that by age 13, 70 percent of all youth drop out of sports, usually due to the behavior of adults, parents and coaches. Sports can increase children’s self-esteem and help them develop peer relationships. Unfortunately, none of these benefits are apparent in the show.

Finally, using children at risk of serious harm in this way as a source of entertainment raises deep concerns. Regardless of the intent of the show, these children are being exploited for the sake of entertainment and for ratings. Viewers of the show watch in troubling fascination the extreme behavior of adults in their roles as coaches or parents determining how much physical and emotional pain is enough -- or too much for young children. Children are unable to consent to be exposed in this way, nor are they developmentally equipped to understand the complex interplay between themselves, their coaches, their parents, the cameras and the audience.

We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you, Esquire Network executives and the producers of the show to discuss our concerns in greater detail, and to ensure the safety of the children participating in this show moving forward.

James M. Perrin, MD, FAAP President