Media Safety Information

– by Elisabeth Winterkorn, M.D.

Children and access to Media

Children these days are exposed to different forms of media (TV,Computer,iPads,Video…) at younger and younger ages and for much longer periods of time. In fact, current reports find that children spend more time involved with “screen time” than they do at school, at play, or engaged in any activity other than sleeping.

Prolonged media time reduces the time children spend at imaginative or social play. Children are exposed to both violent and sexualized behavior well before they are able to understand and make healthy decisions about how to treat their own bodies. Furthermore, TV and movies tend to make alcohol and tobacco use appear glamorous, and show bodies that are either too “perfect” (tall, thin,unblemished) or too “ugly” (fat, acne-prone) — this encourages high risk behaviors, and leads to issues of self esteem.

Media at home

Children of all ages should have limitations in the number of hours of screen time. The current recommendation is that children under 2 should have no exposure to TV or computer. Children and adolescents should limit their screen time to 2 hours a day. School-aged children and adolescents who use the computer for schoolwork don’t have to count their school-related computer time as part of their two hours.

Try to watch and play with your child. If you are actively involved in your child’s media time, you will have a better idea about the content of their media exposure, you will be able to monitor the time of the exposure, and you will be able to have an active conversation about what is seen or heard.

TV and computers should be kept and used in a public place. TVs have no place in a bedroom, they lead to sleep disturbance, poor sleep hygiene, nightmares, and chronic fatigue. Studies have also closely linked increased screen time with ADHD and learning disabilities.

TV should not be on during mealtimes and should not be used as a distraction technique to get children to eat. Studies have associated high levels of media use with obesity because children eat many more calories while sitting in front of the television, and don’t pay attention to their own inner cues about fullness.

But what about PBS and educational programs?

Even educational videos and programs should not be overdone. Children can certainly learn from PBS programs, but many studies have shown that this learning is enhanced by having a parent interacting with the program as well to reinforce the actions and activities on the screen.

While exposing children to current events is an important part of teaching history and responsibility, parental guidance is necessary. News clips and “top stories” are frequently violent, scary, and uncensored. If children accidentally see these clips, they can be frightened, confused, and overwhelmed. Even adolescents should be encouraged to talk about what they have seen and heard in the news in order to be able to better understand and rationalize it in the framework of your family values.

Going Online

Email, texting, Facebook, and other social networking sites are the fastest growing media outlet for adolescents. When kids go online, they should know never to share any personal information! They should also be warned not to chat or email with anyone they don’t know personally. Unfortunately, cyber-bullying is rampant – it is much easier to say cruel things when you’re not face-to-face – and adolescents need frequent reminders not to get involved in online bullying either as a victim or as the bully.

Media at the doctor’s office

It is important for patients and parents to take an active role in their child’s health – whether for health maintenance or a sick visit. To this end, we ask that patients and parents not use their cell phones to talk or text while they are in the office. If a patient’s sibling is using an electronic device during the visit, we ask that the sound be turned all the way off or that headsets are used to control the volume.

Media on the road

Don’t forget, texting and emailing are also media exposure. Texting while driving can be more deadly than drinking and driving. It is currently illegal to text while driving in the state of Massachusetts.

The History of Screen Free Week

You can find more information at: http://www.screenfree.org/

Some websites about healthy media use

  • Children’s Hospital Center on Media Health
  • AAP Guidance to Help Families Make Positive Media Choices
  • AAP The Internet and Your Family