Emotional and social development stunted by too much screen time: advocate

KELOWNA, B.C. – Smart phones, laptops, gaming devices: they’re all extremely accessible to young people.

And while they present opportunities to learn, they also present huge risks for children without supervision.

“Statistically the biggest risk to young people is young people themselves,” says Merlyn Horton, CEO of the Safe Online Outreach Society. “The kids who are at highest risk online are those willing to talk about sex, doing drugs or engaging in high risk activities online and then they make themselves a target.”

Horton, an international speaker, was in Kelowna Wednesday night to share information on better parenting in the digital age.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently found 30 % of U.S. children first use a mobile device while still in diapers. The AAP says that “digital life begins at a young age, and so must parental guidance.”

Story continues below advertisement

Technology should not be present during meals or bedtimes, says Horton.

Screen time, she says, causes a lack of emotional and social development in children.

“There’s a lack of ability to self soothe,” says Horton. “If we’re putting a cell phone in a child’s hands every time they attempt to have a temper tantrum, or they’re frustrated, we’re not giving them the skills to be able to manage their anxiety themselves.”

She advises parents to have value based discussions to help children with boundaries online.

“They can guide their children and provide a lot of important information to help young people make smarter choices,” says Horton.

Horton was invited to speak during Interior Savings Unplug and Play Week.