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Helping Our Kids Thrive in a World of Media and Technology 

July 03, 2015  |  Falmouth Enterprise 

Dr. Michael Bihari

Kids today spend over 50 hours of screen time every week. The media content they consume has a profound impact on their social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development. 

The average American child age 8 or older spends more than seven hours of screen time every day, watching TV, using a computer, playing video games, and using hand-held gadgets such as tablets, e-readers, cell phones, and gaming devices. Even much younger kids, age 2-8, spend nearly two hours a day with screen media.  And through virtually all of these media, our children are being exposed to marketing messages. 

According to a study - Advertising to Children and Teens: Current Practices - published last year, “The media environment for children and teens has changed dramatically in recent years, and so, too, has the advertising environment—perhaps even more so. In the past, advertising to children and youth consisted primarily of 30-second TV ads; now it includes product placements, immersive websites, advergaming, viral marketing, mobile ads, social-media marketing, and precise behavioral and location targeting. More than ever before, advertising and entertainment are inextricably linked. In many cases, the content is the ad.” 

Children, Adolescents, and the Media

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement in November 2013 concerning the impact of screen time and media on kids, along with recommendations for how pediatricians should interact with parents about the issue. 

According to the Academy, “Young people now spend more time with media than they do in school—it is the leading activity for children and teenagers other than sleeping. Despite all of this media time and new technology, many parents seem to have few rules about use of media by their children and adolescents. In a recent study, two-thirds of children and teenagers report that their parents have ‘no rules’ about time spent with media.”

The Academy policy on media recommends that pediatricians should provide the following advice to parents: 

  • Limit the amount of total entertainment screen time to <1 to 2 hours per day.
  • Discourage screen media exposure for children <2 years of age.
  • Keep the TV set and Internet-connected electronic devices out of a child’s bedroom.
  • Monitor what media children are using and accessing, including any Web sites they are visiting and social media sites they may be using. 
  • Coview TV, movies, and videos with children and teenagers, and use this as a way of discussing important family values.
  • Model active parenting by establishing a family home use plan for all media. As part of the plan, enforce a mealtime and bedtime “curfew” for media devices, including cell phones. Establish reasonable but firm rules about cell phones, texting, Internet, and social media use.

Common Sense Media

While researching the impact of alcohol and e-cigarette marketing to kids for several past Risky Business articles, I discovered Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org), one of the best internet resources for parents who are concerned about what their kids are watching or doing online.      

Common Sense Media is a non-profit organization that helps families make smart media choices, “We offer the largest, most trusted library of independent age-based and educational ratings and reviews for movies, games, apps, TV shows, websites, books, and music.  Our Parent Concerns and Parent Blog help families understand and navigate the problems and possibilities of raising children in the digital age.”

The site has in-depth reviews for more than 24,000 types of entertainment including movies, games, apps, websites, TV shows, books, and music. Each piece of entertainment is reviewed in detail to help parents make choices that are best for their family. For example, aside from outlining what a movie is about, the site provides a guide to age appropriateness and rates each movie on the basis of quality, including positive messages, positive role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism, and the amount of drinking, drugs, and smoking. Each review also has comments from parents and kids as well as a page (“families can talk about…”) that provides suggestions for parents to use as points of discussion.

Parent Concerns

The site also has sections about parental concerns such as, screen time; privacy and internet safety; Facebook, Instagram, and other social media; violence in the media; sex, gender, and body image; marketing to kids; learning with technology; reading; and, alcohol, drugs, and smoking. Each of these sections has access to articles, videos, resources, and a list of parental concerns and questions by age groups, starting with preschoolers.

I highly recommend commonsensemedia.org. I have sent the link to several people I know who could use the recommendations and I will use the site when my grandchildren visit.

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