May 9, 2014

Texting or Parenting: What’s Your Priority?

You love your smartphone, but your kids might not.

An observational study by pediatrician Jenny Radesky indicates that many parents are depriving their children in favor of their phones, and that such techno-addiction can harm the kids.

When Radesky worked at a clinic in a high-tech savvy neighborhood, NPR reported, she realized how often parents ignored their kids while engaged with their mobile device. One mother kept her phone in the stroller between herself and the baby. "The baby was making faces and smiling at the mom," Radesky told NPR, "and the mom wasn't picking up any of it; she was just watching a YouTube video."

That gave Radesky the idea to study 55 different groups of parents and young children eating at fast food restaurants. Forty of the adults pulled out a mobile device immediately, and used it during most of the meal.

That’s bad for kids, Radesky said, because face-to-face interaction is how children learn language, emotional responses and how to regulate them. "They learn by watching us how to have a conversation, how to read other people's facial expressions,” she told NPR. “And if that's not happening, children are missing out on important development milestones."

Is anyone surprised that Radesky and the other researchers observed that kids whose parents were most absorbed in their devices were more likely to act out, trying to get their parents' attention?

Although her research was more of an anthropological observation than solid science, it was published in the journal Pediatrics.

According to Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships the Digital Age,” when a parent’s priority is a digital device, there can be significant emotional consequences for the child. "We are behaving in ways that certainly tell children they don't matter, they're not interesting to us, they're not as compelling as anybody, anything, that may interrupt our time with them," she told NPR.

In her research, Steiner-Adair interviewed 1,000 children between 4 and 18 about their parents' use of mobile devices. Several reactions were common: "sad, mad, angry and lonely." Some kids told how they threw their parent's phone into the toilet, put it in the oven or otherwise hid it. One girl said, "I feel like I'm just boring. I'm boring my dad because he will take any text, any call, any time — even on the ski lift!"

Steiner-Adair said it’s not known when the cumulative moments of disconnect between a parent and a child begin to affect the youngster in the long term. So she hopes, before reflexively answering the phone, sending a text or reading email, that parents would make a thoughtful choice between paying attention a mobile device or to their children. If your default is to choose technology over children, you need to rethink your priorities.

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July 12, 2013

More Muscle to Protect Children’s Online Information

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) regulates how companies collect, use and disclose personal information a child provides to a website, app or online program. COPPA’s intent is to have a parent or other legal guardian monitor kids’ online information and to run interference between them and commercial or other interests that might exploit them. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces COPPA.

This month, COPPA was amended “to clarify the scope of the Rule and strengthen its protections for children’s personal information, in light of changes in online technology since the Rule went into effect in April 2000.”

Courtesy of FDA Law Blog, here’s a primer about COPPA and how the FTC is on alert for food, drug and device manufacturers that go astray of its rules. In general, according to Law Blog, food companies that market online or appeal mostly to children are at the greatest risk of FTC scrutiny.

Food companies have encountered COPPA enforcement regarding child-directed web programs promoting snack foods. The FTC’s new round of enforcement, says Law Blog, probably will include food companies whose websites, apps or other online programs collect, use or disclose personal information from children.

Drug and device companies, the blog says, probably are less likely to be hammered because they are less likely to use online programs that appeal to children. “There have been no enforcement actions to our knowledge against a drug or device company,” it says. Still, in developing online programs or services for children’s drugs or devices, such as a kid-oriented app to help parents teach how to use an inhaler, COPPA could apply.

The FTC’s definition of personal information (PI) includes a first and last name, telephone numbers, electronic files containing a child’s image or voice and “persistent identifiers” that can recognize a user over time and across different online programs. According to the FTC, COPPA applies to three types of entities that might encounter this type of PI:


  • operators of commercial websites or online programs (including mobile apps) directed to children younger than 13 and that collect, use or disclose PI provided by children under 13;

  • operators of commercial websites or online programs that are directed to a general audience if the operator has “actual knowledge” that it is collecting, using or disclosing PI provided by children under 13; and

  • companies that have actual knowledge that they are collecting PI via another company’s website or online service directed to children.


If a company is covered by COPPA, the FTC expects it to:

  • post a clear and comprehensive privacy policy describing its practices for PI collected from children;

  • provide a parent or legal guardian with prior “direct notice” of the collection of PI from children;

  • obtain a parent or legal guardian’s prior “verifiable consent” for any collection (subject to some limited exceptions);

  • provide the parent or legal guardian access to their child’s PI to review and/or delete;

  • maintain the confidentiality, security and integrity of PI collected from children;
  • retain PI collected from children for only as long as is necessary to fulfill the purpose for which it was collected; and

  • delete PI collected from children using reasonable measures to protect against unauthorized access or use.


For additional information about the vulnerability of children on the Internet, see our blog “The Perils of Underage Use of Social Media.”

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March 8, 2013

The Perils of Underage Use of Social Media

It’s a techno world, we just live in it. As much as parents want to give their children everything they need for learning and having fun, the adoration many kids have for social media poses important boundary issues.

Writing on KevinMd.com, pediatrician Natasha Burgert recalls a visit from a 10-year-old patient who had a completely age-appropriate love for dancing, gymnastics and horseback riding, and, as Burgert saw it, a wholly unacceptable involvement in Pinterest, a photo-sharing website where users create and manage thematic posts based on their interests and events.

Burgert was discomfitted to learn that not only was the child active on Pinterest, but that her mother had helped her set up the account. Said mom: “[T]he stuff she looks at is OK. She likes arts and crafts, and looking at hairstyles. Sometimes she shares ideas with me.”

Burgert clearly believes it is not OK for a 10-year-old to be surfing the web alone. She said there’s a common misconception by parents that social media sites are suggested for children older than 13, based on the network’s content, like a PG-13 movie.

By federal law, users of social media sites must be at least 13 years old.

The long-term consequences of a 10-year-old’s online activity are unknown. Do you really want to risk your child’s future?

Here are Burgert’s reasons for encouraging parents to enforce the age limit on social media:

1. A child younger than 13 (U13) is protected by the Children’s Online Privacy Protect Act (COPPA). Essentially, COPPA protects a child’s personal information from being collected and shared. Such protection is being updated to include online data tracking, location, photos, videos, and information available to third-party advertising networks.

Creating an account for a child U13 using a false date of birth circumvents the federal law. That means the social networks, and all the information your child shares, are completely out of your control.

(Some people believe that COPPA laws decrease a child’s protection online, arguing that without COPPA, fewer children would lie about their age, which would enable better online protection based on their true age. But it’s still the law.)

2. Kids know the U13 rule. If you, as a parent, falsify your child’s age to create an account, you are saying that it’s OK to lie on the Internet. You are saying that the rules don’t apply to your kid. Is that really what you want to do?

“Teaching appropriate boundaries and limitations on the Internet are of paramount importance,” Burgert writes. “Parents should be providing an example of ethical and responsible internet citizenship. This means enforcing the rules.”

3. Children U13 do not have the intellectual or emotional maturity to handle many social media themes. Pre-teens have enough trouble with real-life social interaction. Their reasoning skills are developing, and they’re vulnerable to online harassment, solicitation and cyber-bullying. “Allowing a child U13 on a major social site,” says Burgert, “is only prematurely increasing this risk.”

4. There are safer alternatives for children U13. Learning how to navigate and interact on social media sites is an important skill, and kids need to learn responsible Internet behavior. But some pre-teen social networks enable this education, they’re fun and they provide legal protection. For guidance in this realm, and a list of such sites, link to Common Sense Media.

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