Helping Your Kids Make Better Media Choices

Helping Your Kids Make Better Media Choices

Today’s kids are bombarded with multimedia messages — both positive and negative — and the wide and expanding variety of entertainment media can have a real impact on the physical and mental health of children. How can parents help children navigate this new terrain to make wise media choices? “A decade ago, most children and adolescents spent about three hours a day watching television. Today, kids are spending more than seven hours per day on entertainment media, which includes televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices,” says Dr. Victor Strasburger, a member of the Council on Communications and Media at the American Academy of Pediatrics . {{more}}Choose Media Wisely To help kids make wise media choices, parents should monitor what their children watch. Parents can make use of established rating systems to avoid inappropriate content, such as violence, explicit sexual content or glorified tobacco and alcohol use. Stick to educational, non-violent content. And by watching TV with your child you can put any questionable content into context and let it serve as a springboard for family discussions. Parents should also make sure their home’s media room includes non-electronic media formats like books, magazines and newspapers, as well as board games. Regular trips to the library with your children to help them select books can also encourage positive media consumption. Limit Screen Time and Zones The AAP recommends parents establish “screen-free” zones at home by making sure there is no TV, video games or computer in children’s bedrooms. And they strongly recommend no TV during dinner. Parents can also limit screen time by creating a weekly schedule of shows each family member wants to watch, or by providing alternatives, such as reading, after-school sports, hobbies, family activities and outdoor play. This is especially important during vulnerable times, like when kids get home from school. For children younger than 2 years, the AAP recommends no TV at all. A child’s brain develops rapidly during those first years, and children learn best by interacting with people, not TV screens. Become Critics “Studies have associated high levels of media use with problems in school, attention difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity,” says Dr. Strasburger. “And the Internet and cell phones have become new platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.” In order to combat negative repercussions of such media exposure, parents should encourage children to be media critics. Ask kids questions about the attitudes and behaviors of characters in TV shows, movies and books, as well as the meaning and connotation of music lyrics, to get them thinking more critically about media and their own behavior. Also, explain to children how commercials persuade people to buy items they may not necessarily need or which may not always be good for them. Consider using a DVR to minimize exposure to advertising by pre-recording shows and fast forwarding through some commercials. For more tips on helping kids make positive media choices, visit the AAP’s website, www.healthychildren.org.