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Docs Urge Focus on Kids' Media Use

The nation's pediatricians are urging doctors, parents and schools to embark on a new campaign to curb children's excessive use of media.

In a news release accompanying the first update of its Media Education policy statement in 11 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that "kids are now spending more than 7 hours per day on average using televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices for entertainment. The increasing availability of media, including access to inappropriate content that is not easily supervised, creates an urgent need for parents, pediatricians and educators to understand the various ways that media use affects children and teens."

The policy calls on pediatricians to ask two questions at every visit: "How much entertainment media per day is the child or adolescent watching? (The AAP recommends that children have less than two hours of screen time per day, and viewing should be avoided for children under 2.) Is there a TV set or Internet access in the child or teen’s bedroom?"

Recommendations for parents include:

  • Encourage a careful selection of programs to view.
  • Co-view and discuss content with children and adolescents.
  • Teach critical viewing skills.
  • Limit and focus time spent with media. In particular, parents of young children and preteens should avoid exposing them to PG-13– and R-rated movies.
  • Be good media role models; children often develop their media habits on the basis of their parents’ media behavior.
  • Emphasize alternative activities.
  • Create an “electronic media-free” environment in children’s rooms.
  • Avoid use of media as an electronic baby-sitter.

The policy urges schools "to begin implementing media education in their curricula. The simplest way to do this would be to incorporate principles of media education into existing programs on drug prevention and sex education."

The statement notes that "excessive media time takes away from other creative, active or social activities. In addition, the content of media must be considered, including entertainment, news and advertising. Particularly important are the effects of violent or sexual content, and movies or shows that glamorize alcohol and tobacco use. Studies have associated high levels of media use with school problems, attention difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. And the Internet and cell phones have become important new sources and platforms for illicit and risky behaviors."

The AAP's goal is for each child to become "a media-educated person (who) will be able to limit his or her media use, make positive media choices, develop critical thinking and viewing skills, and be less vulnerable to negative effects of media content and advertising. In addition, simply reducing children’s and adolescents’ screen media use has been shown conclusively to have beneficial health effects."

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