FRIDAY, Dec. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Gifts of electronic gadgets,
like smartphones and laptops, no doubt bring glee to the teens who
receive them. But people thinking of gifting such devices to a kid
might want to consider the broader ramifications.
"With teens and these types of gifts, we're really talking about their ability to connect with the larger world," said Dr. Jonathan Pletcher, an adolescent medicine specialist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. "These gifts come with a responsibility to talk with kids about the rules of engagement, and you have to be willing to have those talks."
"This is not a gift you can just give and walk away," he said. "It's like a new bike. You have to be willing to put in the time."
Take cellphones, now ubiquitous in teens' and younger kids'
lives. According to the Pew Research Center, three-quarters of
teens have a cellphone, and most use those phones to text one
When that texting takes place can be problematic.
"If you're reading a text, you're not looking at the road," said Dr. Barbara Gains, director of trauma and injury prevention at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. In addition, she said, "there have been reports of pedestrian injuries where kids were so busy texting that they've walked out in front of cars."
What's being texted can cause problems, too.
More than one-quarter of all teens have sent a naked picture of
themselves to someone else, a practice known as "sexting,"
according to a report published online July 2 in the
Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. And another
study, published last December in
Pediatrics, noted that text messaging has become a popular
way for bullies to harass people.
One thing parents and other gift-givers probably don't need to
be worried about, though, is any permanent eye damage from youths
staring at a tiny cellphone screen.
"If you do anything for a significant length of time, there will be fatigue," said Dr. Karen Griffith, an optometrist in Petaluma, Calif., "but they won't make a permanent change to their vision" with extensive cellphone use.
As for computers, both Pletcher and Gaines expressed concern
that kids who spend too much time on a computer might be doing so
at the expense of physical activity. In fact, a study from the June
issue of the journal
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercisefound that
cardiorespiratory fitness decreased as kids' computer screen time
Eye fatigue can also be an issue when looking at computer
screens, said Griffith, who recommended practicing what she called
the 20-20-20 rule: "If you're at the computer for 20 minutes, take
a 20-second break and look 20-feet away."
Then there's the concern about content.
"The Internet is an amazing thing, but it doesn't take more than a few clicks to get somewhere you don't want your teen to be," Gaines said. Her advice is twofold: "Keep computers in public places because kids are getting exposed to things that we, as parents, never even thought about" and, in addition, "talk to your kids about what kinds of things should and shouldn't be posted."
Concerns about content carry over to video games, too.
"Every family has different standards as to what's acceptable, but playing video games has really become a way for kids to have a play date, even though they're in their own homes," Pletcher said.
Video games "can be a good way to blow off steam," he said, "but
like everything else, they require monitoring."
One recent study offers support for steering kids away from more
violent content. The research, presented at a meeting of the
Radiological Society of North America, found that violent video
games could temporarily alter brain function, though the
researchers said it wasn't clear just what the changes might mean,
All told, however, those concerned about kids' health and safety
want to remind adults buying gifts for kids that it's important to
consider more than whether a gift has sharp edges or tiny movable
"Electronics are here -- it's just the way things are -- and parents really have to be an active part of their use and be engaged," Pletcher noted. And, he said, that ought to include talking to eager gift-givers to make sure any electronic presents are parent-approved.
The Pew Research Center has more on
teens and text messaging.
A companion article details
one family's solutionto use of electronics.
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