Keeping Kids Healthy and Sane in a Digital World

Smartphones, tablets and video consoles can be addictive. They interfere with sleep. They draw kids into an alternate universe, often distracting them from more productive — and healthier — real-world activities. And they are linked to anxiety and depressionlearning disabilities and obesity.

That’s according to a growing body of research emphasizing the physical and psychological dangers of heavy screen use. Yet for many teenagers, cellphones and social media are also indispensable tools for planning their social lives, keeping up with schoolwork and staying in touch with out-of-town friends and relatives.

How can parents optimize the constructive uses of screen-based technology while minimizing its pernicious effects?

The key is helping kids use technology as a tool, not a toy, “where there’s some purpose other than the medication of boredom,” says Jim Taylor, a psychologist and author of the book “Raising Generation Tech: Preparing Your Children for a Media-Fueled World.”

Most medical and mental health professionals suggest that if you want to foster a healthy relationship between your children and their screens, you should regularly plan activities for them that don’t involve screens. It might be as simple as talking or reading to them, but sporting events, trips to a park or museum or regular family nights out are also good alternatives.