OK, I am going to get a little personal with this installment of Portable Practical Pediatrics, I am going to tell you a real life story that happened to yours truly, when I was in high school, 10th grade to be specific that involved media exposure. This story speaks directly to the question I posed in the title of this pedcast: “Should parents care about what media their children watch during childhood?” An important question for today’s parents to ponder so hang with me for this important edition of Portable Practical Pediatrics
My awful Media Exposure Experience in High School
First for the story-Let me tell you about an experience I had when I was in 10th grade with a video that I found very traumatizing. I grew up during the 50’s/60’s, the cold war era, when the threat of imminent nuclear annihilation was palpable and real. For reasons that I didn’t understand, my school required that all students watch a documentary film about what nuclear war would really be like. What was exhibited on the screen were graphic depictions of humans having their skin burned off, experiencing unimaginable pain, and utter despair. I left the film in shock thinking that my life was hopeless and that what I had been shown was my future. Why study? Why get up in the morning? Doomsday was inevitable and coming soon. I was destined to be incinerated! I recall having some panic attacks shortly after seeing this movie and generally feeling overwhelmed. In other words, I was very anxious and probably depressed… all from viewing a video. It took me months to recover but fortunately, I did. Science Drive So let’s explore briefly what we know about the amount of media children are consuming today and what effects it can potentially have on them, shall we, with a trip down science lane. For the purposes of this pedcast, I am going to take much of the information about media use from an article that was published by the American Psychological Association in 2015. Statistics that I am about to site come directly from this article that is linked in the show notes. I think it is obvious to anyone paying attention that children in 2019 are spending far more time with screens than previous generations. To give you a sense of how much more, take a look at these statistics compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
This translates to 53 hours a week consuming various types of media, rivaling the amount of time a child spends in school. In the same survey, they found that 66 percent of teens this age had their own cell phones, 36% of surveyed children had a TV in their bedrooms, only 1 in 3 children reported any limits to media exposure by their parents, 2/3rds of children said that TV was usually on during meals. As you can see, media exposure was rampant in most homes surveyed and is undoubtedly worse now than in 2009.
I think you should find these statistics shocking since numerous surveys have shown a number of negative effects of media and heavy screen time on children. Here is a partial list:
- Exposure to media violence has been shown to increase violence acts committed by the children consuming it.
- The presence of a TV in a child’s bedroom most likely will reduced your child’s academic performance.
- Heavy or disturbing media exposure can make some children very anxious or even depressed just like it did to me. Even if this doesn’t happen, texting and social media definitely increases the importance and influence of the child’s peers and diminishes yours.
- Social media has opened up a new type of bullying, “cyber bullying”. This is becoming all to common in today’s America.
- Easy access has opened up an epidemic of children consuming pornography, interactions with nefarious strangers in chat rooms, radical political arguments, and other messages of which you might not approve.
- Heavy screen time has been shown to impair sleep in children.
- Screen time are addicting for some children and addiction is never good thing.
There Have to Be Some Rules
I hope that your common sense along with knowing all of this information will lead you to the conclusion that ALL PARENTS must set some limits for their children when it comes to their media exposures. As my own experience in high school demonstrated to me, media messages can be harmful to a child and can have very profound effects on a child. Here are some guidelines that the American Psychological Association recommend for parents with regards to media exposure for their children.
All good suggestions if you ask me. Make it your mission NOT to be like 2/3rds of families who have no rules about media use in their homes. They’re your children and it is your responsibility to set limits about their media consumption just like you have to do with their cleanliness, their bedtime, and their junk food consumption. Do not give into the temptation to get your 8 year old a smartphone, help your 6 year old have a TV or other screen in their bedroom, install or provide a screen in your car, or facilitate him/her playing violent video games by buying the platform and games. You know deep down, that these devices are dangerous for children. You don’t want to look back after they are grown and realize that screen messages had more influence on your children than you did, do you? Yeah, limiting them and having rules will undoubtedly lead to some major push back from your children and other parents but you need to stand strong. I promise, the storm will pass and your children will eventually thank you for protecting them from many of the problems that the digital age have presented for them.
If you value the information that you get from Portable Practical Pediatrics, consider taking a moment to tell a friend or relative about our efforts. Podcasting is new to most people so show them how to listen to or download a pedcast. Not only will they think you are cool and tech savvy, but you might just help them become, “One of the smartest parents in the room”. This is Dr. Paul Smolen, encouraging every parent to take control, of their children’s media roll. Until next time.
Many thanks to Dr. Monica Miller and Dr. Charlotte Rouchouze for their help in preparing this pedcast.