On Children and the Media
If something becomes an integral part of life, to the extent that we possess it at all times and use it for work, communication, recreation, and entertainment for the majority of each day, would you say that it impacts us? Would you say that it affects our relationships and health? If we reflect even for a few seconds, I think it’s clear that it would and does. For this reason, we are starting a series to examine how the integration of modern technology into our lives affects our physical and mental health, beginning with the health of children.
Disclaimer: Unlike some of you, I don’t have children. I don’t pretend to have the slightest understanding of what it’s like to raise children. My aim is not to offer an opinion on parenting, but to present the research and recommendations of experts on the subject of children and media.
In our society, children grow up in a world where media and technology use have been weaved into our lives to an extreme extent. Media today is not limited to one TV in the living room; most kids have a smart phone by high school (if not earlier), allowing constant unsupervised internet access throughout the day. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a report on this subject last October, and here are some of their stats:
- Children age 8-10 average 8 hours per day of media exposure (includes internet, TV, texting, video games etc.)
- Older kids and teenagers average over 11 hours per day
- 71% of children and teenagers have a TV in their bedroom. 1/3 have internet in their bedroom.
- 75% of kids 12-17 own cell phones
Some of these stats may seem surprising, some may be expected. Either way, it’s indisputable that the new generation of kids is growing up in a climate saturated with technology. As most of us likely grew up with the only media being TV, imagine being your ten year old self sitting on the couch for 8 hours a day. I loved Rugrats and Hey Arnold as much as the next 90’s kid, but I can’t imagine staying glued to the screen for that long–or my mom letting me!
The article cites many ways in which media use can be harmful children. These include exposure to sexual or violent content, substance abuse, tobacco, and the obvious–if a kid is staring at a screen, it’s not likely that she is running around outside with friends. The panel did note some positive aspects of media exposure, such as educational programs for young children and “prosocial” media positively influencing teenagers. They also give recommendations for parents:
- Total screen time per day should be less than 1 or 2 hours
- Children under 2 should have NO screen exposure
- Keep TV and internet devices out of the bedroom
- Make a home plan for media use, including a “curfew”
I think it’s very important that doctors are looking at media and technology use as a medical issue, and that they are expressing their recommendations to the public. However, I think the current research is extremely lacking. The recommendations for use are based on the criteria we talked about earlier (violence exposure, substance abuse, etc). There is no data about how the drastically increased media use affects children in less tangible ways. Does being raised in front of a screen affect how a child interacts with other people? How are relationships being affected? What about creativity, focus, and attention span? What about empathy and compassion?
Overall, I think the pediatrician’s recommendations are very helpful to parents, but much more research needs to be done. In the mean time, we all need to be vigilant about the world of media in which modern children are being raised.