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Being Media Smart with Your Children

Andrea Meadows, M.D., Lexington Clinic Pediatrics           

As we approach the start of the new fall TV season, it is a perfect opportunity to talk about television viewing and the effects that it has on children. Some surprising statistics: about 25% of infants age 9 months to 12 months watch an hour or more of television a day. Over 25% of children age 2-5 already have a TV in their bedroom. So what effects does TV have on the developing brain?   

Research has shown that infants who watch TV, regardless of what type of programming, have a higher likelihood of developmental delay—specifically language delay—than those infants who did not watch TV. The reason for this is simple: the human brain develops based on social interaction. Even if the television programming is educational and designed to help infants learn, they are not getting the social interaction needed to help stimulate brain growth and language development. Even the “gold standard” for educational TV, Sesame Street, in studies does not help children under four learn.   

So what does this mean to you as a parent? Children under two should not watch any television at all; if they do it should not exceed 30 minutes per day. If you do choose to let you child watch educational programming, they will get the most out of it if you are watching with them and proving them the social interaction needed to stimulate learning.     

In older children, TV viewing has been linked to weight gain and obesity. It sounds intuitive… the kids are just sitting on the couch instead of outside playing. However, several studies have shown that while that is true, it seems to be tied more to TV advertising and food choices than the simple inactivity.   

It is important to monitor all of your child’s “screen” time. Screen time includes all TV viewing, computer and video games (including those on portable devices such as PSP, cell phones and Nintendo DS). Video games and the internet are more concerning for older children and adolescents than television viewing. The reason for this is that the internet is not policed or controlled in any way and video games have become increasingly violent. 

Here are some guidelines for media use in children:

     - Limit children's total media time to less than one to two hours per day.

     - Remove television sets, computers and video game consoles from children's bedrooms.

     - Children under 2 years of age ideally should not watch any television.

     - Monitor the shows that are viewed by children and adolescents.

     - Install parental controls on your computer and television to restrict your child’s exposure 

       to inappropriate material.

     - Preview video games your child plays for violence and sexual content.