Beware of Media

In today’s technology-obsessed age, the average American sees, hears about or uses some form of media every single day. The term media commonly refers to mass communication through the use of newspapers, books, magazines, television, radio, film, video games, and Internet-enabled devices like computers, tablets, and cell phones. And in recent years, the media, especially visual media, are playing an increasing role in the lives of children, adolescents, and families in the United States.

How Often our Children Use Media

According to some research, the average child spends about 7.5 hours each day using media. More specifically, on a typical day 8 – 18 year olds spend approximately 4.39 hours viewing television, 2.31 hours listening to music, 1.29 hours using computers, and 1.13 hours playing video games. While print media, such as books or magazines, and movies are also consumed on a daily basis, the least amount of time is spent with these media.

With these statistics, it’s more important than ever for parents to become media literate and begin to monitor and limit all media their children are exposed to.

Dangers of Overexposure to Media

Research shows that excessive exposure to screens (television, tablets, smartphones, computers, and video game consoles), especially at early ages, is associated with the following:

Advice for Parents

The American College of Pediatricians encourages parents to become media literate and limit all screen time for their children.  Parents, too, must limit their own screen time, especially the use of smartphones, to improve their interaction and engagement with their children, as well as to assure the physical safety of their children.

Discourage TV viewing and all screen exposure (including on smartphones and iPads) for all children under the age of two. Instead of electronic toys, provide toys that foster creativity, such as blocks and crayons.

Try limiting all media exposure for entertainment purposes (television, movies, computer/video games, and music) to one hour or less per day for children over two years of age, and avoid developmentally inappropriate content all together.

Turn the television off during mealtimes and do not allow your child or adolescent to have a television, computer, internet access or internet-enabled devices, phones and game consoles in the bedroom.

Encourage alternate forms of entertainment, especially those involving physical activity with participation of all family members such as family game night or going for a swim or taking a walk around the neighborhood.

Screen and monitor your child’s media exposure. Watch television with your children and teens so you know what programs they are watching and what lessons they are receiving.  Every television program and video game will teach your children something. Choose programs and games that support your family’s values.

Explain commercials to your children. Commercials are made to encourage us to spend money. Children can understand that we do not need a certain product to really be happy.  Ask your children questions that stimulate conversations about the commercials.

Be aware of the video game rating system–and know the rating of the games your children play.  Pornography is embedded and accessed through a variety of games aimed at youth. Video games often become more violent and more sexual at higher levels so make sure to check the levels of the games your children have access to and remove any inappropriate games from these devices.

Limit younger adolescents’ access to social media. Most sites require that the users be at least 13 years of age. If your child is younger than 13, it makes little sense for them to be using social media on their own and restricting their access to social media until they are of age is one way to protect them from premature exposure to cyberbullying and pornographic content that younger social media users are sometimes exposed to.

Limit your own use of media so you can be a role model to your children – turn off the television, smartphones, and computers during mealtimes and NEVER text or talk on your cell phone while driving, especially when your children are in the car.

Think of other ways to entertain your child while traveling, such as listening to or singing songs together, making up stories, and bringing books for your child to read.

Consider utilizing Internet or router filters such as “Covenant Eyes” or “Router Limits”, or Internet provider services such as “Integrity Online” to decrease the likelihood of inappropriate access to obscenity or high-risk online activities.

Ask about the literature your children and teens are reading in school, especially in high school. Be aware of the increasing use of sexually explicit material in high school literature classes.

Finally, discuss with your child’s pediatrician the profound influence the mass media can have on a child’s well-being and actively work together towards improving the overall quality of media content as well as reducing your child’s exposure to cyber bullying.

The American College of Pediatricians calls upon the media industry and their sponsors to act responsibly which includes limiting the portrayal of unhealthy behaviors including violence, smoking, overeating, eating high sugar/high fat foods, sexual behavior between unmarried individuals, and sexual innuendos or frank references; and instead, choosing to increase portrayals of healthy behavior to include families engaging in physical activities together, healthy eating, and respectful dialogue between individuals.

However, though we may call upon and expect the media industry to implement these changes for the sake of children and teens in our society, it is ultimately up to child health professionals, educators and parents to vigilantly protect our youth and shield them from the harmful effects inappropriate media can have on their mental, physical and overall well-being.

For more information, please view the following resources:

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