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Doctors Seek Universal Rating System for Media

Pediatricians want to curb violence in all forms

MONDAY, Nov. 5, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- The nation's leading group of pediatricians, concerned about violence in all kinds of entertainment media, is calling for a universal ratings system that parents can understand.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also wants producers of movies, music and especially video games to cut down on violence.

The AAP presents new guidelines for pediatricians regarding media violence in the November issue of its journal Pediatrics.

"Pediatricians need to make parents aware that media violence is a public health issue, and it does affect their kids," says Dr. Michael Rich, one of the authors of the guidelines and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

The AAP says more than 3,500 studies have found links between media violence and aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, fear of violence, nightmares and other sleep disturbances and depression. While it hasn't yet been studied extensively, the guidelines suggest that video-game violence may affect children more than other forms of media violence because it is interactive rather than a passive form of entertainment.

Rich says the AAP wants a significant change in the current rating systems. While parents understand the movie rating system, he says the ratings for video games, music and television are "unusable for parents." The AAP favors a universal content-based rating system so parents know exactly what they're letting their children watch.

"With a can of food, parents know exactly what they're putting into their kids' stomachs. Media labels should let parents know exactly what they're putting into their kids' minds," says Rich.

The new guidelines also push for more positive media images, rather than for censorship of negative ones. However, the group asks the entertainment industry to stop glamorizing and rewarding violence. For example, video games should not award extra points for killing people. Also, the AAP says the real consequences of violence are rarely shown.

Rich says parents should remember that if they stop purchasing or watching violent media, the entertainment industry will respond. "Market forces are better than censorship," he says. "People are intimidated by the entertainment industry's billions of dollars, but what people need to remember is those dollars come from us."

The new guidelines also push for pediatricians to include a media history as part of children's annual physicals. Then, as they do with seat belt or helmet use, pediatricians can advise parents of ways to use the media without putting their children at risk.

The AAP also advocates limiting TV and video games to one or two hours per day. Currently, kids average more than six hours daily.

Dr. Anita Gurian, a child psychologist at the New York University Child Study Center, applauds the new guidelines and says, "Pediatricians should be working actively with parents [on this issue]."

Parents should be watching TV with their kids, helping them to become educated and critical consumers of media, Gurian says.

"TV can be toxic, but there is also a lot of good stuff on TV, so we don't want to throw it all out," she says. If you can't watch a program with your child when it airs, she recommends recording it and watching it with them later.

Rich also says parents need to watch with their children, and he says that TVs in kids' bedrooms are a bad idea. "Children should watch TV in a public place [in the home], and parents should co-view and discuss the programs with their children. Children need someone to help make sense of what's going on."

What To Do

For more information on media violence and children, go to the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

And, here's what Health Canada has to say about the effects of media violence on children.

SOURCES: Interviews with Michael Rich, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, member, committee on public education, American Academy of Pediatrics; Anita Gurian, Ph.D., child psychologist, New York University Child Study Center, New York City, and executive editor, AboutOurKids.org; November 2001 Pediatrics
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