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Doctors suggest parents enforce a ‘media diet’ for kids

Updated: April 14, 2014 4:48PM



In an age when exposure to televisions, smartphones, computers, tablets, and all forms of social media play a dominant role in the lives of American kids and teens, many families have very few rules in place to manage their children’s media use. But for their well-being, that should change, the nation’s largest group of children’s physicians advises.

In a revised policy statement released Monday,the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents make a media-use plan for their families that takes into account not only the quantity, but the quality and location of media used, include mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices, and keep all screen media out of kids’ bedrooms.

The AAP repeats its recommendation to limit total entertainment screen time to less than two hours per day and to discourage all screen media exposure for kids under age 2.

The recommendations for an improved “media diet” coincided with the release of a new survey from the non-profit advocacy group Common Sense Media, that shows 72percent of children ages 8 and younger have used a mobile device for some type of media activity such as playing games, watching videos or using apps, up from 38percent just two years ago. Seventeen percent of these young children use a mobile device daily.

“We are worried that a lot of parents are clueless about their kids’ media use and how to manage it appropriately,” says Victor Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico and co-author of the AAP policy statement released at the group’s national conference in Orlando.

They are “spending more time with media than they are in school. They are spending more time with media than in any activity other than sleeping. You could make the argument that media have taken over the primary role of teaching kids from schools and parents in many cases,” says Strasburger.

According to findings cited in the policy statement:

† The average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly 8 hours a day with a variety of different media; older children and teens spend more than 11 hours per day.

† The presence of a television set in a child’s bedroom increases TV viewing even more, and 71(PERCENT) of children and teenagers report having a TV in their bedroom;

† Nearly all children and teens (84percent) are online; about 75percent) of 12- to 17-year-olds have a cell phone, up from 45percent in 2004; 88percent use text messaging.

Last updated five years ago, the revised statement says that the AAP “continues to be concerned by evidence about the potential harmful effects of media messages and images,” noting that excessive media use has been associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues. Yet it adds that media can help children of all ages learn important academic material and “teach empathy, racial and ethnic tolerance, and a whole range of interpersonal skills.”

When it comes to content, “media can be good or bad,” says Strasburger. “There’s some extraordinarily good media out there. It’s a matter of finding the right stuff for the right aged child or teen and limiting access to inappropriate media.”

The onslaught of new digital devices to deliver media makes the challenge of monitoring your children’s “media diet” harder than ever, says Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media.

Not only is there more of it, but “because these devices are mobile, screen time moves with them from room to room. It’s not as easy to monitor use.” — AP



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