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Parents Asked to Limit TV and Have a Media Plan

The newly released policy from the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) Council on Communications and Media urges parents, schools, doctors and advertisers to recognise media effects on children – both positive and negative. While the AAP Council remains concerned about research-based evidence about the potential harm from media messages, it also acknowledges the positive effects from television shows like Sesame Street, which teaches children numbers and letters.

Television continues to predominate children’s media viewing but mobile phones, computers, iPads, and social media are also contributing to what the authors say is “a dominant force in children’s lives.” And it is the ease of access and penetration of media into children’s lives that has prompted the new recommendations, released on 28th October 2013. One 2010 study (see External Links below) claims media use (including reading and listening to music) “…is the leading activity for children and teenagers other than sleeping.”

Media Effects – The Risks

The new AAP Council policy raises concerns related to media content and time spent by children consuming media. For example, one highlighted issue is children having unsupervised access to material they are not able to understand or view in the right context. (happychild has previously reported on media violence and a child’s developing brain.) Also concerning is the research reporting that 20% of adolescents either sent or received a sexually explicit image by mobile phone or the internet. With teenagers sending as many as 100 texts per day, often while engaging in other activities, concerns exist for their ability to multi-task efficiently and safely. 

Media Effects – The Benefits

But it’s not all bad news for media, says the AAP Council: “Media can also teach empathy, racial and ethnic tolerance, and a whole variety of interpersonal skills.” Studies have also found that helping behaviours can increase after listening to affirmative song lyrics, and digital health campaigns are dispensing positive information about adolescent health.

Summary of Key Recommendations

The policy makes recommendations for families, schools and doctors:

For Families:

  • Have a media plan that includes rules about allowable time for, and content of television and online viewing. Less than 2 hours per day is recommended for children over 2 years, with no screen exposure recommended for under 2s. The plan should also include limits on when and how many text messages can be sent per day.
  • Remove media devices from a child’s bedroom.
  • View and discuss television, movies and videos together.

For Schools:

  • Implement or expand media education programs.
  • Encourage innovative use of technology such as online education programs for children with extended school absences.
  • Work collaboratively with parent-teacher associations to encourage parental guidance in limiting or monitoring age-appropriate screen times.
  • Have strict rules about use and access of digital devices at school.

For Paediatricians:

  • Include two key questions during well-child check-ups: How much recreational screen time does your child or teenager consume daily? And, is there a TV set or an Internet-connected electronic device in their bedroom?
  • Offer counselling to establish an effective household media plan.
  • Contribute to schools, government and advertising boards to regulate the negative media effects on children.

"A healthy approach to children’s media use should both minimize potential health risks and foster appropriate and positive media use - in other words, it should promote a healthy ‘media diet’',” said Dr Marjorie Hogan, co-author of the AAP Council policy. 

Image from freedigitalphotos.net