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Limit A Child’s Access to Media

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I was just sitting outside this evening reading this week’s JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), when I came upon an interesting commentary written on Media and Children. The article is written by Dr. Victor Strasburger, a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, and a prominent pediatric educator and advocate for children.

The focus of the article is how much the media influences our children and adolescents. Just like the previous “daily dose” written on the study of infants and children and background television, our children spend an enormous amount of time involved with media. The estimate is that, on average, our children spend more than six hours a day with either TV, VCR, DVD, DVR, computer and Internet etc. That is more time than they spend in class and definitely more time than they spend talking to their parents (I am using my own children as a barometer here).

These youth have access to media, that will probably only continue to grow. The statistics are staggering, 2/3 have a TV in their bedrooms, 1/2 have a VCR or DVD player, 1/2 have a video game console, and almost 1/3 have internet access or a computer. How can parents possibly monitor all of this mixed media?

The media in and of itself does not cause direct pediatric health problems, but it most likely contributes to many of the issues we see in our pediatric patients today. The problems with youth violence and aggression may be related to early exposure to guns and violence in the media. Sex is everywhere on TV, even in prime time and there is little discussion or even advertising directed to the consequences of sex. No one seems to get an STD or pregnant from numerous “one night stands” on TV. Smoking, still depicted in movies is a problem as youth continue to become addicted to cigarettes. Alcohol advertising is geared to the youth population with billions being spent per year. Obesity and media seem to be intricately intertwined as our youth view thousands of fast food commercials while they are sedentary and snacking. Lastly, eating disorders, which continue to rise, especially in adolescent females, may be related to how the media portrays beauty and body image.

So, I am going to be asking patients once again, how they handle media in their own homes. Do you limit TV and video watching to two hours per day, as recommended by the AAP? Do you let your children have televisions, and video games in their bedrooms? Do you monitor what is on the television and choose shows to watch together, many of which may be excellent family viewing when chosen carefully. Do you let your children go to PG-13 or R rated movies before recommended. I have a lot of work to do to remember to discuss this with each family. It is becoming even more important as we all become more influenced by multi-media outlets and children face even more exposure. Making media a positive learning experience is necessary to ensure the overall health of children. I bet my teenage patients are going to change the subject when we get to these discussions!

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again soon.

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