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Health & Parenting

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Too Much Tube Time for Kids, Group Says

American Academy of Pediatrics Recommends Reducing Children's Media Exposure
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 15, 2010 -- Children and teenagers spend more time engaging in media -- such as watching television, surfing the Internet, and playing video games -- than any other activity, except for sleeping. That’s according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which issued a new policy statement that calls for pediatricians and parents to take steps to reduce media exposure.

The statement, published in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics, says that exposure to mass media can have some positive effects, but also some health risks. It says studies have associated high levels of media exposure to problems in school and obesity, and that children and adolescents should limit media screen time to less than two hours per day.

The statement cites a 2010 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation of more than 2,000 youngsters between 8 and 18, which revealed that these youths spend more than seven hours a day using such entertainment media. “By the time today’s young people reach 70 years of age, they will have spent the equivalent of seven to 10 years of their lives watching television,” the statement says. “There are more homes in America that have a TV than those that have indoor plumbing, and today’s child lives in an environment with an average of four TVs, nearly three DVD players or VCRs, one DVR, two CD players, two radios, two video game consoles, and two computers.”

AAP’s Concerns About Media Exposure

The AAP says it is concerned that:

  • Excessive time using electronic media leaves less time for physical activity or creative and social pursuits and can lead to obesity.
  • Violent or sexual content can have harmful effects, and so can movies or programs that tend to glamorize the use of tobacco and alcohol.
  • The Internet and cell phones have become major new sources for illicit and risky behaviors. For example, it cites a study that found that 20% of teens had sent or posted nude pictures or videos of themselves, a practice called “sexting.”

AAP Calls for More Education of Parents and Doctors on Media Exposure

The AAP now recommends that:

  • Pediatricians ask at least two media-related questions at each well-child visit. These should include asking how much entertainment media kids use per day and whether there is a TV set or Internet access in their bedrooms.
  • Parents set good examples for their kids by emphasizing alternative activities and creating an “electronic media free” environment in children’s bedrooms.
  • Parents should avoid allowing electronic media to serve as a substitute baby-sitter.
  • Schools should implement educational programs in their curricula, emphasizing that too much entertainment media can be harmful.
  • Congress should consider funding such educational programs in schools.
  • The federal government and private foundations should dramatically increase their funding for research on how much electronic media devices are used, and possible ramifications.

The AAP says parents, doctors, and teachers need to better understand the downside of too much media exposure by children. It says simply reducing children’s and adolescents’ screen media use has been shown “conclusively” to have beneficial health effects.

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