The influence of the media on the psycho-social development of children is profound. Thus, it is important for physicians to discuss with parents their child’s exposure to media and to provide guidance on age-appropriate use of all media, including television, radio, music, video games and the Internet.
The objectives of this statement are to explore the beneficial and harmful effects of media on children’s mental and physical health, and to identify how physicians can counsel patients and their families and promote the healthy use of the media in their communities.
♦ Television has the potential to generate both positive and negative effects, and many studies have looked at the impact of television on society, particularly on children. An individual child’s developmental level is a critical factor in determining whether the medium will have positive or negative effects. Not all television programs are bad, but data showing the negative effects of exposure to violence, inappropriate sexuality and offensive language are convincing.
Some public television programs stimulate visits to the zoo, libraries, bookstores, museums and other active recreational settings, and educational videos can certainly serve as powerful pro-social teaching devices.
Still, watching television takes time away from reading and schoolwork. More recent and well-controlled studies show that even 1 h to 2 h of daily unsupervised television viewing by school-aged children has a significant deleterious effect on academic performance, especially reading.
The amount of violence on television is on the rise. The average child sees 12,000 violent acts on television annually, including many depictions of murder and rape. More than 1000 studies confirm that exposure to heavy doses of television violence increases aggressive behavior, particularly in boys. Other studies link television or newspaper publicity of suicides to an increased suicide risk.
The following groups of children may be more vulnerable to violence on television:
- Children from minority and immigrant groups
- Emotionally disturbed children
- Children with learning disabilities
- Children who are abused by their parents
- Children in families in distress
Physicians who see a child with a history of aggressive behavior should inquire about the child’s exposure to violence portrayed on television.
Television takes time away from play and exercise activities, children who watch a lot of television are less physically fit and more likely to eat high fat and high energy snack foods.
Eating meals while watching television should be discouraged because it may lead to less meaningful communication and, arguably, poorer eating habits.
♦ Using social media Web sites is among the most common activity of today’s children and adolescents. Any Web site that allows social interaction is considered a social media site, including social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter; gaming sites and virtual worlds such as Club Penguin, Second Life, and the Sims; video sites such as YouTube; and blogs. Such sites offer today’s youth a portal for entertainment and communication and have grown exponentially in recent years. For this reason, it is important that parents evaluate the sites on which their child wishes to participate to be sure that the site is appropriate for that child’s age. For sites without age stipulations, however, there is room for negotiation, and parents should evaluate the situation via active conversation with their children.