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Communities that Care | Media consumption alters children’s behavior, development

Many parents are concerned about the amount of time their children spend watching TV and using other electronic media such as smartphones, computers and video games. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average 8- to 10-year old spends almost eight hours a day using screen media, and teens spend more than 11 hours per day. That’s more time than most children spend on any other activity except sleep. In comparison, most parents only spend about six hours a day with their children.

Last week, the AAP released a policy statement on children’s media use. A recent study that found that about 75 percent of 12- to 17-year olds own cell phones and almost all teens use text messaging. The AAP discourages media use by children younger than 2 and recommends limiting older children’s screen time to no more than two hours a day.

Too much screen time has been linked to numerous negative outcomes:

Obesity: The more time children spend watching TV and playing video games, the greater their risk of becoming overweight. The presence of a TV in a child’s bedroom has been shown to increase this risk.

Irregular sleep: The more TV children watch, the more likely they are to have difficulty falling asleep at night. Sleep loss can lead to fatigue and increased snacking.

Behavioral problems: Elementary school children who spend more than two hours a day using electronic media are more likely to have emotional, social and attention problems. Watching excessive amounts of TV at age 4 is linked with bullying at ages 6 to 11. Daily TV viewing for two or more hours during early childhood can lead to behavioral problems and poor social skills. Playing video games also is associated with an increased risk of attention problems.

Impaired academic performance: Elementary age students who have TVs in their bedrooms tend to perform more poorly on tests in school. Higher amounts of TV time also are associated with poor vocabulary development.

Violence: A surgeon general’s report concluded that 61 percent of all TV programming contains violence. Children who watch three to four hours a day of noneducational TV will see about 8,000 small-screen murders by the time they complete elementary school. According to the AAP, “Watching a lot of violence on television can lead to hostility, fear, anxiety, depression, nightmares, sleep disturbances and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is best not to let your child watch violent programs and cartoons.”

Sexuality: Casual sex often is portrayed as “cool” in the media. Whether in dramatic programs, music videos, sitcoms or commercials, TV programming seldom depicts the negative outcomes of sexual behavior, such as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Other negative influences: Characters on TV and in video games often depict other risky behaviors, such as smoking and drinking, and also reinforce gender-role and racial stereotypes.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for limiting screen time is the most obvious: The more time children spend watching media, the less time they have to engage in active, creative play and to interact with friends and family.

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