PTA Speaker Series: Safe Technology in Childhood and Adolescence

Graded School

How much screen time should a five-year-old be allowed? What’s the right age to give a teenager a cell phone? These were some of the pressing questions addressed during the PTA Speaker Series: Safe Technology in Childhood and Adolescence.

Dr. Florencia Fuks, a pediatrician, shared invaluable insights on how parents can guide their children toward the healthiest ways to manage screen use. The larger the device, she noted, the less harmful it generally is for a child. A movie viewed on the living room TV allows a child or teenager to be more engaged with their surroundings and their family than an iPad with headphones, which removes them from the environment completely.

Ms. Alessandra Borelli, an attorney specializing in digital law and data protection, delved into the legal ramifications for both children and parents in the digital realm, as parents can be held legally responsible for the digital infractions of their children. She recommended that, most importantly, parents have frequent and open conversations with their children about how they use their phones and the internet and provide opportunities for their children to engage in activities away from screens, such as sports. Parents can effectively establish clear boundaries using helpful tools like parental control monitoring apps, digital use contracts agreed upon by both parent and child, and built-in device settings. For instance, devices often have features allowing parents to block their children from making purchases.

As for the questions posed, Dr. Fuks recommends no more than one hour of supervised screen time per day for children of ages 2-5. She encourages us to think about screen time like we do sweets—it’s enjoyable and it’s acceptable in moderation, but screen use must be paired with healthy choices like imaginative play and time in nature. 

Regarding the age at which a child should receive a cell phone, Ms. Borelli’s answer is not until it becomes necessary. In a world overflowing with different devices, the tech landscape extends beyond smartphones, offering alternative options when it comes to gaming, music, connecting with friends, or checking in with a parent. Cell phones become extensions of our bodies, and social media and applications are specifically designed to be addictive—even adults have a difficult time with self-regulation.

At Graded, students engage in age-appropriate lessons to navigate the virtual world safely and responsibly. Lower school students learn how to conduct safe internet searches during visits to the library. Students in middle school advisory participate in lessons about online behavior. Finally, social-emotional counselors guide high schoolers through digital citizenship. However, healthy and safe screen usage goes beyond classroom lessons, and parents play a crucial role by setting boundaries and expectations at home.

Dr. Fuks and Ms. Borelli acknowledged that we lead busy lives, often with hectic work schedules, and that during the first year or two of the pandemic, we had to rely more than ever on screens. We must examine how our children use devices and the example we are setting for them with our own cell phone use at the dinner table or when conversing with them. It’s hard work to set these boundaries and have these conversations. Yet, the speakers emphasized that the effort invested pays off. Promoting the safety of our children and guiding them to engage in life outside the screen is essential to a healthy childhood and adolescence.