Today, millions of young children are separated from primary loved ones (parents, caregivers, grandparents) due to jobs, divorce, military deployment or family re-location. Research shows that the children separated by distance from their adults experience difficulty bonding with those who are physically-absent.

Young kids in these families experience higher rates of behavioral and emotional issues, academic declines even at kindergarten age, and higher drop-out rates. Divorce, deployment and jobs that require substantive travel are on the rise, and these families are looking for solutions to connect with kids and keep them safe and grounded.

Yet, if you are the parent or caregiver to a younger child, the very technology that seemed to offer help — Skype or Facetime — has long been branded as a hazard. For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has frowned upon exposing kids under 5 to “screen time” — be it television or your ubiquitous smart phone. In an effort to solve the problem of distance, caregivers faced the specter of a different harm.

In mid-October, however, the AAP relented and acknowledged what studies have long suggested (Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents): exposure to screen time that helps children communicate and learn is a benefit, not a harm. The AAP policy statements engage the questions of how to make sure technology use is kid-friendly, and the guidance should yield smarter products for the marketplace and deeper engagement at home.

One key metric is tying a child’s interaction to an adult’s full participation in the experience, especially in video-chats. Whether side by side on the sofa or long-distance via a video screen, when a loved adult is active in the process, this engagement can be critical a child’s emotional and social development. The best technology solutions will offer real and comprehensive ways to keep a child connected through an adult’s full attention to the moment.

Technology has always offered both help and harm, not always in equal measure. As families separated by distance seeks to close the gap, the screens that once frightened pediatricians may now become a lifeline to a healthier, happier child. In pursuit of a child’s well-being, parents and other loved adults should explore the options that create interaction, catalyze learning and keep the whole attention of both kid and adult.

Doctor’s orders.

Originally published at