In the Good Ol’ Cybertime: An Urgent Alert to Parents

“Children’s uses of technology at home can too easily rob families of unique bonding opportunities and expose kids to immediate and future dangers. Parents are already worrying about unorganized unsupervised use, but it seems so pervasive in our culture that most don’t know what to do and where to start. Just eliminating all technology does not seem right to many,” according to Dr. S, a distinguished Chicago child psychiatrist and author of the newly-released guide for parents.

Parents are right to worry. While they can become more stressed when their schedules do not lighten up to accommodate the months and months of school-free kids, media like TV, MP3 players, baby videos, smartphones, computers, video games, and computerized toys and dolls seem extremely convenient and seductive baby-sitters. But in the long run, most parents rightly sense that these can be harmful to kids and families.

In fact, increasing home technology use does isolate family members. According to research, families with more media use end up less close and kids less happy. In the US, recent Kaiser Family and Pew Foundations studies show that at least 20% of older children end up spending over 130 hours weekly with media and more time texting than actually talking on the phones . The danger of Internet addiction looms large: in South Korea, the government is actually stepping in to aid the nearly two million Internet-addicted teens and young adults. Studies also show that by the time a child reaches adolescence, parents can do less and less to influence healthy uses of technology or prevent excessive and inappropriate consumption.

Parents want help. Time is running out as kids become increasingly isolated, family life declines, and technology-soaked and their chaotic media consumption continues. “It is urgent to protect our families and guide our kids. These media experiences are changing how kids’ brains are wired. Parents should not miss opportunities that summertime brings to cement family life and prevent bad outcomes. There is plenty that is positive and helpful parents can actually do, once they gain the confidence and adopt a new mind set,” according to Dr. S.

“Families are already missing out on benefits technology has to offer year-round. But – good news — they can catch up by using increased summer leisure time and longer daytime hours to make technology an asset and create a healthy balance in child rearing and family relationships. Parents of young kids can use the summer to start a major project of initiating healthy media consumption and avoiding improper uses that will continue year-round,” according to Dr. S, who recommends these steps to parents:

1. Rethink the role of technology and assume leadership of your family in resetting goals of media use in your home. Some families would require radical makeovers.

2. Consult with each child’s teachers, librarians, other parents, and other credible resources, especially if the child has special needs.

3. Discover and harvest online and other resources to make sure they are good for your children and enhance Growth Opportunities — Family relationships, Socialization, Values Education, Education Enrichment, and Entertainment.

4. Decide on the proper media balance for each child according to age and specific needs. If a piece of technology does not serve child development or healthy family life, it does not belong in your home. Think of technology devices as home appliances, not toys.

5. Collaborate with the child and other family members to organize each child’s media consumption and your own involvement into weekly plans of balanced Growth Opportunities that suit the child’s age and individual needs. Keep track of amount and kind of daily use and make sure kids adhere to the plan. Review and refine the plan year-round. This may seem like more work right now, but in the long run you will save yourself and your kids untold problems later and bring many benefits.

6. Discourage solitary media use and avoid shutting out kids when you yourself use media such as cell phones and texting yourself. Encourage together uses of media, like video games and watching TV as a family.

7. Use summer travel to put your new plan into operation. Whenever possible, plan family trips together online and invent other joint activities like setting up photo albums or educational projects like studying the history of points of interest and travel destinations or starting collections like rocks or sea shells. On long road trips, forbid excess media use like texting or other smartphone uses. Substitute family games, singing together, conversations, and other fun engagements with kids for backseat TV or video or isolating earphone music.

8. Establish media-free zones and media-free times – like weekends– for all to follow. Spend more active time outdoors with the kids, and leave your own cell phone home.

9. Growing up with ubiquitous electronic input is harming imagination and creativity and leaving kids shallow, unable to self-sooth, stimulus hungry, and easily bored. Consider replacing the electronic clutter in their lives with appreciating their inner lives and the value of being fully present during quiet private time alone. Encourage thinking, observing, and imagination. Teach quiet times together and silently appreciate a beautiful natural scene, art, performance, or music. You too may need to learn this step first.

Families that do not have an organized approach to media consumption put kids at risk and miss out on great “Growth Opportunities”. With a correct balance and proper parental supervision tailored to the child’s age, technology can actually enhance children’s development and family life.

According to Dr. S, “Planning children’s (and parents’) media consumption has to become a priority as important as planning nutrition and education, and I hope that smart parents are beginning to catch on. I am personally passionate about this issue because it is so important for our families’ health and the future of our society.” But parents must start early – with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and grade school kids – to make balanced technology consumption a healthy ongoing part of family life. By the time the child is a teen, he will have good habits.

KIDS, PARENTS & TECHNOLOGY: A GUIDE FOR YOUNG FAMILIES (ISBN 9780557194827), available everywhere in paperback and in all electronic forms, is child- and family-centered, positive, and innovative. It is the first ever comprehensive guide for parents, grandparents, therapists, and all others interested in healthy family life and child rearing. Age-specific chapters give detailed instructions and hands-on tools to shape kids’ technology consumption (see ). This is not yet another “Nine Easy Ways to…” — type approach promising easy solutions to complex problems. It is a thoughtful and comprehensive work by a wise and devoted doctor who asks parents to make enduring commitments to make life-altering changes in their families’ lives.


Book Expo America Opens this Week as Industry Scrambles to Respond to Teen-Initiated Tech Trends

Originally published in The New York Times


Promising “content and buzz”, Book Expo America opens this week in New York City. Most of the buzz in the famed publishing trade show will surely come from the industry’s scramble to keep up with the digital revolution.

And many of the explosive trends that are making up these revolutionary personal technology developments have surely originated and evolved in teen culture.

“It is the nature of youth culture to be the first to incubate new trends and bring them into the mainstream, sometimes to the benefit of all. Trends like the many personal uses of the Internet and, more recently, social networking, started in teen culture. Our healthy, thriving, diverse society needs its kids’ innovation, energy, and vitality,” according to Chicago psychiatrist Eitan Schwarz, MD and author of “KIDS, PARENTS & TECHNOLOGY: A GUIDE FOR YOUNG FAMILIES” (ISBN: 9780557194827). The book was shown in BEA’s New Title section.

Even as publishers seek new ways to leverage the explosive consumption of new forms of media, youngsters are ever-evolving new trends. For example, one such current trend is the explosive use of texting. According to the recent Pew report, texting is now the main way teens communicate by phone, with over a third sending over 100 messages daily, more than any other age group. “Be sure that this is now also becoming a major trend among all age groups, even as we speak. Texting is not inherently bad. Healthy teens explore and experiment. Most kids stay safe and well, while some cross limits into more risky behaviors.

In his book, available in all electronic forms as well as paperback, Dr. S discusses these issues: “Parents, too, need to scramble to keep up with the digital revolution. Good parenting allows experimentation within limits and a balance.” Dr. S teaches parents how to reset their thinking about technology in the home and become confident enough to contribute their intelligence and good judgment. He gives tools to start kids off early with media as a natural and collaborative part of family life and to prevent kids from developing extreme habits.

Dr. S emphasizes the positive uses of technology for family life and child development and encourages family relationships, values education, and balanced media plans: “Parents make theirs successful digital families by making wise decisions, much as they do about nutrition and education. After over a decade of chaotic technology use by unsupervised media-soaked kids, parents can now for the first time finally have a way to harvest the best of technology to raise successful digital families.”


Stop drifting in fast technology currents and start swimming!

Originally published in the New York Times


A recent New York Times story describes how cellphone texting is now more frequent than voice calls. Such a trend is but one example of how, in subtle and not so subtle ways, technology is changing our lives day by day. Bullying and sexting are other instances of ugly destructiveness, also powerfully portrayed in David Schwimmer’s recent drama, “Trust”.

For the past decade, we and our kids seem to have been caught in the turbulent, fast moving, powerful, and seductive currents of technological progress. Sexting and texting were hardly in our vocabulary two years ago. It is stunning to realize how long, how far, and how fast we have been drifting; and we mostly don’t even know where we will eventually end up. And the rate of change is increasing, so change will be coming faster and faster. Too often, we merely passively react, having no clear goals or game plans. That should concern a lot of folks! Yet, most of us hardly give it much thought, and, if we do, we feel powerless, shrug, or uneasily laugh it off.

It is time to stop drifting and start swimming. Technology is here to stay and be used for the good, but things are moving very fast. It is time for us to stop drifting and to take charge. As parents, teachers, and others concerned with developing kids into good people, we must take an active stance in saving children from this turbulence. We need thoughtful planning of their media experiences. For example, if media has no positive family or child- development value, it does not belong in children’s hands. Period. Parents must take charge and actively organize and plan the media consumption in their homes.

How we use technology cannot be left to trends of popular culture any more than education or nutrition. We must think of cell phones and computers as tools for grown ups and as home appliances, not as toys, which is how kids use them.

Of course, there are wonderful applications for kids, but let’s keep the line straight and clear. And we ourselves need to think more clearly about our parenting goals in our own media behaviors: No texting while parenting! Media can be good for kids: Do select and harvest for your kids a menu of good media – and there is plenty of good out there. And the child’s age is important – start them early with media as part of healthy family life.

We urgently need to reset our thinking from the top down and plan and take charge. We need to actively shape our media lives deliberately and carefully so that we can get more benefits and fewer risks. We need to remember the basics of good parenting and learn to apply them in our digital families.

The New York Times: Cellphones Now Used More for Data Than for Calls



Day by day, our uses of technology are changing our lives in subtle and not so subtle ways. The increase use of texting is but one example. David Schwimmer’s recent “Trust” portrays its ugly destructiveness. What we need urgently is a way to think from the top down so that we have some control over these trends, rather than merely passively measuring them and complaining helplessly or reacting to specific problems. How our kids use technology cannot be left to trends of popular culture any more than their education or nutrition. And we ourselves need to think more clearly about our parenting goals in our own media behaviors: No texting while parenting! As parents, teachers, and others concerned with developing kids into good people, we must take an active stance. Parents must take charge of media in their kids’ hands. These are grown-ups’ tools and home appliances, not toys. Parents must actively organize and plan out the media lives of their kids. Do give children the good – and there is plenty of good out there! — but keep away the bad! If media has no positive family or child- Development value, it does not belong in children’s hands. And the child’s age is important – start them early.

David Schwimmer’s TRUST Is a Call to Action

Drama is Great Tool for Health Education about Technology but Formspring Shows Parental Measures Insufficient

David Schwimmer and Andy Bellin’s important play “Trust” just closed its three months’ debut run at Chicago’s Looking Glass Theater last week-end, and is fortunately slated to resurface as a movie later this year. The drama is a moving portrayal of the life-changing consequences of an Internet romance between an innocent teenage girl and an adult male predator.

The truth of this drama and how close it is to all our lives and a threat to our loved ones is powerful. The audience seems to hold its breath as it watches the emotional trap laid methodically and carefully by the rapist, who lurks safely in the anonymity of cyberspace as he craftily manipulates a young girl’s budding sexuality. The play exposes the deep and complex emotional traumas that spread like a concussion wave the naïve teenager’s pain to her family members, friends, and caring criminal investigators, and portrays their difficult journeys towards coping and healing.

While the topics of cruel and criminal manipulation and rape of youngsters are timeless and compelling, what makes Trust especially relevant today is the role of technology. The audience sees the teen’s text-messages to her imagined lover as she sends and receives them. It is online and cell phone messaging and texting that enable the narrative’s tragedy – the evolving furtive relationship between the naïve child and her predator.

“Trust”s aim appears to be to bring this painful and real story to life to “start a dialogue.” Its intent is not to preach or provide solutions. But the well-delivered message is clear: Kids + technology = potential danger. I believe that this drama can be quite useful as a health-education tool that alerts media-soaked youngsters and their parents groping at the same time with powerful technologies, hormonal changes, and still-evolving but immature minds. But it does not go far enough.

There are critical technology-related issues, central to the play and to our children’s lives, that go beyond the scope of “Trust” and must be considered if we are to save whole generations of children. These additional threats are not as obvious or sensational as those in the play, but their insidious danger to child development and family life can be more widespread.

The realities: Media are here to stay and will continue to evolve and bring new challenges. We have wonderful engineers and innovators, but they do not have the best interests of our children and families in mind. The basic needs of families have not changed significantly over the centuries, and the basics of child-rearing will not change much in the future, no matter what technology comes our way.

Much of technology can be wonderful and helpful, but if it is not planned, organized, and delivered correctly, it can be harmful. Commonly, however, parents complain that they have too few effective tools and strategies to manage childrens’ media lives, and too many parents are essentially abandoning their digital children to media that have become the central component of their environment.

The threats: Recent studies by the Pew and Kaiser Family Foundation and other research show that technology increasingly dominates kids’ time and attention to the detriment of family life and balanced development, while providing few clear benefits. Under-supervised children continue to stuff themselves with junk media as they do junk food. Limit setting and piecemeal ‘expert’ advice are only partially effective. Parents’ current practices — just put those wonderful magical technology devices into their kids’ hands, make a few rules, and walk away — are desperately insufficient. Teenagers keep finding new ways to assert their needs for autonomy, and they are not pretty (see Tamar Lewin’s “Teenage Insults, Scrawled on Web, Not on Walls”, New York Times 5/5/10.)

The call to action: After over a decade of this laissez-faire approach and growing chaos, the time has come for parents to take a broad, systematic and serious look at the role of technology. Right now, parents are adapting family life to technology. The reverse has to happen, or we are in for a disaster as parents are excluded from larger and larger parts of kids’ lives..

Time is running out.

The solution: It is time to return to child-rearing basics and think of what kids and families need. Parents must change their own mindsets and behaviors and commit to an ongoing serious effort to take charge of the technologies in their homes.

Parents must now start early to actively fit balanced technology use into family life as they do healthy nutrition. Starting in early childhood, parents must begin to make media consumption part of normal family life and to raise kids who use media in balanced and healthy ways. It is time to systematically extract the good and exclude the bad, making technology positive and constructive for kids from the very beginnings of family life.

Such an approach could prevent the type of catastrophe portrayed in “Trust”, as well as the longer-term and potentially more disastrous distortion of family life and development of our children that comes with the unsupervised and unorganized consumption of technology.

If we have the will, we can have better family lives and raise healthier kids who are savvy about the balanced uses of technology.


MyDigitalFamily Launches Second Edition of Trailblazing Technology Guide for Families and Children

MyDigitalFamily announced today a second edition of its acclaimed guidebook, “Kids, Parents & Technology: A Guide for Young Families”. This book offers the first and only child- and family-centered total approach to home consumption of all digital media written by a distinguished and credible expert. It is unique in providing a positive and hopeful orientation to technology to parents, grandparents, librarians, educators, and other child care professionals, and although it covers safety, it treats the subjects as a family issue. The author has been termed by some the “Dr. Spock of kids and technology,” referring to the famed pediatrician who guided generations of parents raise kids.

“Technology is evolving faster than our ability to use it in healthy ways. After over a decade of increasing and chaotic media use by kids, there is little evidence of clear benefits from recent studies by the Pew and Kaiser Family Foundations and increasing evidence of harm not prevented by the piecemeal, unfocussed approach of most parents. It is the Wild West out there. Kids are consuming junk media as they do junk food,” according to Dr. Eitan Schwarz, the author and a Chicago child psychiatrist on the faculty of Northwestern University with almost forty years of experience treating kids and families.

“Parents can and must learn how to make healthy media consumption part of normal family life beginning in early childhood. The only reason to have technology at home is to improve family life and child development. Otherwise, kids are at risk for harm. The time is now for all parents to take this matter seriously and make theirs a healthy digital family. Things are moving fast, and parents have no time to waste,” according to Dr. S. “Being a parent today requires planning and organizing healthy media lives for kids. All parents must now become confident and take charge — here they have the guidance they need.”

The book also includes a section for therapists about using digital media, including MP3, social networking sites, and the Internet, in play therapy, based on the author’s research and thoughtful essays about future applications of technology in early childhood.

“Self-publishing is a fortunate adventure that happily brings more opportunities than hazards…and has made it possible to bring out this transformed version quickly… While the First Edition contained pretty much all of my basic innovations, it was, after all, an instruction ‘manual’, a bit rough around the edges. Nevertheless, it has been acclaimed by my colleagues, librarians, and – best of all – parents.” With improved appearance, editing, and formatting, the manual has blossomed into a more refined book, now termed ‘guide’. Also, one new feature is a simple, step by step method for parents to actually make a portal for the young child using only a word processor. As before, updated endnotes are kept online

A major disaster is now in the making: Kids are becoming Addicted to Media and Parents are Helpless

A major disaster is now in the making: Kids are becoming Addicted to Media.

Parents MUST start right now to organize young children’s and their own media lives or have less happy, less creative kids hopelessly addicted to technology

Two studies reported today should alarm parents: Middle schoolers who are allowed to watch R-rated movies are more likely to use alcohol later (Dartmouth) and most college students are already “addicted” to media and suffer serious symptoms when withdrawn (University of Maryland). Together with other studies and recent reports by the Pew and Kaiser Family Foundations, an alarming picture is emerging.

Limiting access, filtering, and restricting are just not enough. Parents must commit themselves to a new mind set that includes planning and organizing kids’ media lives, beginning in their very early years, just as they do the feeding and schooling of their children. “Healthy media consumption must become part of normal family life. Parents need to review seriously how they themselves and how their young kids use media at home. The only reason to have technology at home is to improve family life and child development. Otherwise, kids are at risk for harm. The time is now for all parents to take this matter seriously. Things are moving fast, and parents have no time to waste,” according to Dr. Eitan Schwarz, distinguished child psychiatrist and author of “KIDS, PARENTS & TECHNOLOGY: A GUIDE FOR YOUNG FAMILIES” (published by

“Technology is evolving faster than our ability to use it in healthy ways. After over a decade of increasing and chaotic media use by kids, there is no evidence of clear benefits and increasing evidence of harm. Being a parent in out time includes planning healthy media lives for kids. All parents must now become confident and take charge, and now they have the guidance they need,” according to Dr. S.