Treat access to technology like junk food and set limits, says child psychiatrist
Dr. Shimi Kang says increased screen time thanks to the pandemic is harming young people's mental health
It's time to start treating kids' access to technology the same way we treat junk food, says Dr. Shimi Kang.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made technology more important than ever. Smartphones, tablets and computers have become essential devices for connecting with friends and schooling.
But with reports of increases in cyberbullying, video game and internet addiction disorders and body image issues, the Vancouver-based child and youth psychiatrist and author of The Tech Solution: Creating Healthy Habits for Kids Growing Up in a Digital World says too much access to technology is resulting in serious consequences.
As part of Cross Country Checkup's regular Ask Me Anything series, Kang took questions from callers about the effect of technology on children's mental health and offered practical tips to reduce their screen time.
"Let's start teaching our children to understand technology consumption the same way we teach them to understand food consumption, because this is a really overwhelming topic," she told Checkup host Ian Hanomansing.
Just like junk food, access to unhealthy or toxic digital experiences should be limited or avoided altogether, Kang says.
"It's not about the platform ... it's what your child is experiencing," she explained. Depending on how it's used, one hour on Instagram could cause stress if a child is being bullied or comparing themselves to others, for example.
It can also be used to promote creativity and self-care practices, however.
"You want to guide your children to healthy tech use, and using Instagram to connect with community in a meaningful way," she said.
Kang also recommends setting rules and when devices can be used, recommending that screens are prohibited in the bedroom, at the dinner table and in the car.
To avoid late night scrolling, she suggests turning off WiFi access two hours before bedtime.
"You want to have limits and controls on children's devices and in fact, you don't want to give children their own device. You want to let them borrow yours so that you can take it back any time," she said.
"Just like food, we have to start early. We have to be repetitive. We have to say it again and again. And we have to expect that kids will have a hard time with it and we have to guide them back on the right habits for tech consumption."
Hear more from Dr. Shimi Kang's Ask Me Anything on CBC Listen.