Michaud: Don't limit kids to only 2 hours a day online

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The new recommendation from a group of pediatricians The new recommendation from a group of pediatricians about limiting kids' internet usage is impossible to enforce -- see the ingenuity and stealth of young people -- and unwise. Photo Credit: Tribune Content Agency / Paul Tong

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Anne Michaud Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Anne Michaud

Anne Michaud is the interactive editor for Newsday Opinion. She has written about politics, government, education and transportation

Thousands of children will hit the streets today, or attend school or community center parties, in search of Halloween treats. How effective would it be to tell them to accept just one of every 10 treats they're offered?

Human nature being what it is, by forbidding nine out of 10 treats, you would tap into all the ingenuity and stealth young people could summon to get what they want.

I have a similar hunch about Monday's report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, an influential pediatricians group, that recommends limiting children's and teens' screen time to no more than two hours a day. Not going to happen. In fact, I'm angry that the AAP issued the guideline.

When the recommendation was just about limiting TV viewing, many times I dutifully shut off the box and told my daughters to find something else to do. Not always, but at least when I denied that they were planted in front of the TV for hours, I felt guilty about it.

But the new recommendation is impossible to enforce -- see the ingenuity and stealth of young people -- and unwise. There are many treats behind the websites of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Ask.fm, as well as cellphone texts.

For one thing, putting something as attractive as social media off-limits means independent-minded tweens and teens would hide their activity from parents and other adults. Far better to have them talk about it. This way, we grown-ups can say wise things like, "Don't put anything on Facebook you wouldn't want your future employer/date/mother-in-law to see."

We adults can also identify really bad features, such as Ask.fm's attraction the kids call "Hot or Not." Kids post their photos and rate each other on attractiveness. The site also apparently allows users to masquerade as other people, which could lead to cyberbullying. Last year, Ask.fm wisely blocked anonymous questions.

When adults don't know about these issues, we can't counsel our kids. When was the last time you were surfing on Instagram or Kik? Kids are going places we aren't, and we need them to clue us in so we can guide them.

Underlying the concerns of the pediatrics academy, in addition to cyberbullying, is the potential for ills that come with social media: sexting, Internet addiction, exposure to inappropriate content, compromised reputation and privacy, influence by advertisers and sleep deprivation. Granted.

But there's a wealth of good too -- good that wasn't obvious from the viewer's potato-like relationship with the television. Social media allow people to keep in touch with cousins in another state, friends who've moved away, tech-savvy grandparents. Although email and other new media may have sealed the coffin on phone calling and letter writing, we're informed about each other's lives.

Social media users also learn manners. During an in-depth interview from the backseat of my car, my daughter said Instagram users will tell you to get over your vanity if you post a "selfie" photo too often. There were kids in my high school who could have benefited from such a dose of reality.

Social media also promote real-life activities. My other daughter uses Facebook to organize members of a high school extracurricular group to get together in person. So retro.

Those of us who didn't grow up with social media, including the pediatricians group, must acknowledge that kids now have two lives -- one real and one online. It's a dramatic change that's not easily tucked into two hours a day.

Anne Michaud is the interactive editor for Newsday Opinion.

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