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Screen-Smart Parenting

How to Find Balance and Benefit in Your Child's Use of Social Media, Apps, and Digital Devices

Schlegel, Sarah MD

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: September 2016 - Volume 37 - Issue 7 - p 600
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000328
Book Reviews
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Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Farmington and Hartford, Connecticut

Disclosure: The author declares no conflict of interest.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Jodi Gold writes in the introduction of her book entitled Screen-Smart Parenting: How to Find Balance and Benefit in Your Child's Use of Social Media, Apps, and Digital Devices that her goal is to help parents “develop a thoughtful, systematic approach to digital technology with rules, guidelines, and open communication in place as early as possible.” Although certainly useful for professionals who advise patients and their caregivers about media exposure and management, Dr. Gold's text is directed at parents. She immediately recognizes the various generations of technology users, acknowledging that parents today navigate an entirely new world than their parents did, making decisions about how their children will be exposed to and use ubiquitous digital technology that did not exist during their own childhoods. Furthermore, she acknowledges that research in this area is “burgeoning,” but applicable longitudinal studies are limited because of the extremely rapid development of digital technology that renders modern technology obsolete and irrelevant after only a few years. Therefore, Dr. Gold explains, she offers her expert opinion when scientific evidence is not available.

Her developmentally sensitive approach mirrors other parenting texts and is couched in fundamental parenting guidelines, with themes of moderation, monitoring, modeling, open communication, reasonable expectations, and consistent consequences; her first digital parenting goal “is to cultivate online resilience and digital citizenship” and she constantly emphasizes the critically influential role of the parents' attitude about and own usage of technology. Dr. Gold draws from personal experience as a mother and a seasoned child and adolescent psychiatrist, regularly interjecting relevant anecdotes and vignettes. She writes in a personable manner that parents would find both accessible and authoritative.

Dr. Gold begins by explaining the digital landscape in Part I (“The Brave New Digital World”). She aligns Part II (“Growing Up Digital”) with stages of cognitive development, dedicating separate chapters (all of which end with a bulleted list of “take-home points”) to children birth-to-2, 3-to-5, 6-to-8, 8-to-10, 11-to-14, and 15-to-18 years. Finally, in Part III (“One Size Does Not Fit All”), she addresses special considerations for children with special needs. Dr. Gold provides a great deal of practical advice throughout most of the book and concludes with a chapter intended to guide the development of a “personalized family technology plan.”

Throughout the book, Dr. Gold uses a variety of formats to convey valuable information. She poses and answers questions parents of her patients typically ask. She defines/explains and reviews digital media platforms and offers suggestions for useful resources. Dr. Gold's text is interspersed with charts, sidebar highlights, lists, and brief enhancing narrative blurbs.

She focuses on digital technology “as a tool to cultivate interests and foster community,” but recognizes that children need to learn to use it properly through guidance and experience. Dr. Gold frequently reminds her reader of the permanency of the digital footprint. She reveres technology use as a privilege, not a right.

As I read this book over a couple weeks, I realized how thought-provoking it was and how applicable it is to all of us who work with pediatric patients and their families when I found myself enhancing clinical encounters by acknowledging pertinent references from the text in several instances. During that time, it also prompted some unique, rich discussions with pediatric residents. The impact of digital technology on pediatric patients cannot be underestimated, and their clinical and home caregivers must be as informed as possible. Dr. Gold's Screen-Smart Parenting can concisely, yet thoroughly provide that necessary infusion of knowledge.

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