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The Mediatrician’s Guide: Preparing Children for an Increasingly Technological World

Dr. Michael Rich and Teresa Barker | March 27, 2024

We live in an increasingly technological world. According to the Pew Research Center, 95% of United States’ adults self-identify as internet users. This reflects the culmination of a growing trend—in 2000, about half of United States adults were already online. 

Unsurprisingly, we are not only observing these trends among United States adults. Children in the United States are also using the internet at heightened rates, a topic widely discussed and debated among parents. Amid growing questions about screen time and social media usage, Dr. Michael Rich and Teresa Barker grapple with the questions and concerns of parents in The Mediatrician’s Guide: A Joyful Approach to Raising Healthy, Smart, Kind Kids in a Screen-Saturated World. This comprehensive resource skillfully meshes medical expertise with remarkable candor to provide guidance and reassurance to parents—no matter where their child is on the developmental continuum.

The Mediatrician’s Guide is split into four sections, the first three answering pertinent questions with regards to the technology debate. What?, So What?, Now What?, and Ages and Stages: A Digital Wellness Primer. 

The book opens with a timely introduction which centers a clinical experience involving a mother and daughter as they navigate the challenges of COVID-19. The height of the pandemic is widely and aptly described as an unprecedented time, and its manifestations spanned a number of spheres—including the technological. With widespread school closures and other social distancing measures, educators and parents were pushed to tap into the convenience of technology. Building on the relatable vignette, Dr. Michael Rich and Teresa Barker skillfully acknowledge the transformative power of digital technology, all while setting the stage for the remainder of the book.

In the first part of the guide, which names the what, the two come together to unpack distinct stages of child and adolescent development, and the role of media exposure on each aspect of children’s health and overall wellbeing. Pulling from his extensive medical knowledge and experience as a filmmaker and a father of four, Dr. Michael Rich examines the interplay between the nature of media engagement and use, and health and developmental outcomes. 

This section includes a deep dive into the uses of science, namely within parenting, decision-making, and risk-benefit analyses with regards to children. Rather than promoting avoidance, Dr. Michael Rich honors the ubiquity of technology and media to provide parents with strategies for encouraging mindful consumption and use for their children. Each chapter includes a Media Rx, which outlines specific things parents can do to enjoy media, and use them in ways that support the health of themselves and their children.

Titled, So What?, part two delves into health problems tied to media use, with a specific focus on what Dr. Michael Rich deems the culprit: content. This section includes an evaluation of the content that worries parents most—those that heighten rates of anxiety and depression, distorted body image, disordered eating, aggression and violence, alcohol and other substance use, and the like.

This book is not merely about the negative aspects of media usage. The second part of the book also includes positive stories of the galvanizing power of social media, namely in the hands of children with great passion. The omnipresence of social media means that experiences with social media weave their way into any and all settings, including the hospital. Throughout the section, Dr. Michael Rich weaves in stories from his clinical practice to outline the process through which patients and their parents come to terms with media-related problems affecting kids’ health and development.

The third part of the guide marks a shift from content to context. In Now What?, Dr. Michael Rich spotlights the significance of the circumstances under which children use social media, and the implications for their physical, mental, cognitive, and social development and experiences. Identifying what doesn’t work is a part of the process of determining what does, and so, this section of the guide includes an examination of the difference between screen time limits and limiting screen time, and an analysis of why one strategy prevails.

Finally, Part 4: Ages and Stages: A Digital Wellness Primer offers evidence-based strategies, organized and tailored to each developmental stage. In framing these strategies, Dr. Michael Rich starts with the fundamentals with a focus on moldability, as our technological world is quite fast and ever-changing. 

Purchase the book here.

 

About Dr. Michael Rich

Michael Rich, MD, MPH is an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and practices adolescent medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. Pediatrician, child health researcher, father, and filmmaker, Dr. Rich is the founder and director of the Digital Wellness Lab and the first evidence-based medical program addressing physical, mental, and social health issues associated with digital technology use, the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders (CIMAID). As the Mediatrician, Dr. Rich offers research-based, actionable, and practical answers to parents’, educators’, and clinicians’ questions about children’s and adolescents’ media use and the positive and negative implications for their health and

development.

 

About Teresa Barker

Co-Writer of the New York Times bestseller Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys and other Wall Street Journal, amazon.com and Goodreads top picks, Teresa Barker writes about health and child development, parenting, creative aging, and life passages. Formerly from Oregon, she now lives in Chicago.

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