Navigating Kids' Media Wilderness

American Academy of Pediatrics says media use in children and teens requires guidelines and monitoring

(RxWiki News) It's a brave new world of technology and media out there today — and that presents challenges for raising kids in such a media-rich environment.

A recent policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) addresses the implications of children's and teens' increased media use.

Because of the health concerns associated with some types of media — or too much screen time — the policy statement encourages family to have a "media use plan."

The statement also provides specific recommendations for parents, schools and communities on healthy practices regarding kids' media use.

"Establish a family media use plan."

The statement was written by the AAP's Council on Communications and Media, led by Victor C. Strasburger, MD, and Marjorie J. Hogan, MD.

The policy statement addressed the fact that children are increasingly exposed to more and more media through new technologies, such as iPads and social media.

For example, about 75 percent of teens aged 12 to 17 now own cell phones, almost double the 45 percent who owned them in 2004, the policy noted.

Even more teens (88 percent) use text messaging regularly, sending an average of 3,364 texts each month.

Among the concerns related to cell phones and texting are the distractions they can become while driving, the opportunities for teens to send or receive sexually explicit content and their use after "lights out," leading to less sleep and greater fatigue.

Meanwhile, the authors noted concerns in the research about the effects of violence, sex and substance abuse in the media, as well as the links between media use and obesity.

Yet, the authors recognized the potential value of media use as well in shows such as Sesame Street and media for teens that promote positive social skills.

"Media influences on children and teenagers should be recognized by schools, policymakers, product advertisers and entertainment producers," the authors noted.

The authors therefore encouraged pediatricians to ask parents two media-related questions at each well child visit:

  • How much recreational screen time does your child or teenager consume daily?
  • Is there a television set or Internet-connected device in the child’s bedroom?

In addition, the authors encouraged parents to develop and implement a "family home use plan" for all media.

In establishing this plan, the authors offered a number of specific recommendations:

  • Limit children's and teen's total entertainment screen time (from any source) to less than two hours per day.
  • Discourage any screen media exposure for children under 2 years old.
  • Keep TV sets and Internet-connected electronic devices (including cell phones) out of children's bedrooms.
  • Monitor what media children access, including web sites and social media they use.
  • Watch TV, movies and videos with children and teens for the opportunity to discuss sensitive topics or family values.
  • Enforce media-free meal times and bedtime "curfews" for media devices, including cell phones.
  • Establish reasonable but firm rules about cell phones, texting, Internet and social media use.

The statement also provides recommendations to schools that include educating school boards and administrators "...about evidence-based health risks linked to unsupervised, unlimited media well as ways to mitigate those risks, such as violence prevention, sex education and drug use prevention programs."

The authors encourage schools to use technology innovatively, such as through online education programs, and to work with parents and teachers in developing rules and guidance about media use for students.

Thomas Seman, MD,  a pediatrician at North Shore Pediatrics in Danvers, Mass., said this article points out the fact that every positive aspect of media use can have a flipside.

"Television has value as a teacher if the proper shows are seen," he said. "The wrong shows, however, can cause problems."

Dr. Seman said that children, especially younger children, have a hard time telling the difference between fantasy and reality.

"Children who watch a lot of media can see many images and be involved in many situations that can cause issues with their real life. This desensitizes children to aggressive activities," he said.

"Their total immersion in the games or other media also increases their anxiety as the excitement and/or stress gets stronger the more they play," Dr. Seman said.

"The increased use of media decreases their interaction with 'real people,' including family and friends, and decreasing face-to-face interactions, which can cause more social issues, such as making children less empathetic to others," he said.

Dr. Seman recommended that parents always watch media sources with their children.

"There are times when seemingly 'safe' shows will have a few moments of a less-than-appropriate theme," he said. "During these times the parent can interpret the event and explain what is inappropriate about it."

This kind of activity can also help parents reinforce family rules and morals, he said.

"Different media sources can be fun and entertaining for the whole family, but parents should be cautious about what their children are seeing," he said.

The policy statement was published October 28 in the journal Pediatrics.

Review Date: 
October 29, 2013