WEDNESDAY, Oct. 13, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Children and teens in the United States spend an average of seven hours a day using television, computers, phones and other electronic devices for entertainment, compared to an average of three hours a day watching TV in 1999, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Parents, physicians and educators need to understand the effects of this increasing exposure to media and educate youngsters about media use, the academy said in an updated AAP policy statement released online in advance of publication in the November print issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The statement listed several concerns:
- Excessive time spent using electronic media leaves less time for physical activity or creative and social pursuits.
- Violent or sexual content can have harmful effects, as can movies or programs that glamorize alcohol and tobacco use.
- Research has shown that high levels of media use are associated with school problems, attention difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.
- The Internet and cell phones have become major new sources and platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.
However, educating children about media can help reduce harmful effects, and careful selection of media can help children learn, the AAP said. Along with longstanding advice about limiting, planning and supervising children's media use, the group's updated policy statement includes a number of new recommendations:
- At each office visit, pediatricians should ask at least two media-related questions. Is there a TV set or Internet access in the child's room? How much entertainment media is the child watching? The AAP recommends children have less than two hours of screen time per day. Before 2 years old, viewing should be avoided altogether, it says.
- Parents need to be good media-user role models, encourage alternate activities, and make children's bedrooms electronic media-free areas.
- Schools should offer media education and Congress should consider funding media education in schools.
- The federal government and private foundations should boost their funding for media research.
The statement authors concluded that "a media-educated person will be able to limit his or her use of media; make positive media choices; select creative alternatives to media consumption; develop critical thinking and viewing skills; and understand the political, social, economic and emotional implications of all forms of media. Results of recent research suggest that media education may make young people less vulnerable to negative aspects of media exposure."
In addition, the experts added, "simply reducing children's and adolescents' screen media use has been shown conclusively to have beneficial health effects."
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has more about children and the Internet.