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Screen time: Can too much affect your child’s health?

Practically from the day the television was invented, experts have claimed that too much TV viewing harmed our children and caused family members to drift apart. Today, the debate has been extended to include the burgeoning computer and video game industries.

The American Medical Association (AMA) says that television shows expose families—and especially children—to violence. In fact, by the time they turn 18, youths will have witnessed more than 200,000 acts of violence, including 16,000 killings, on TV shows. The AMA also says media violence desensitizes kids to the emotional impact of real-life tragedy.

Video games: Too realistic?

Like TV, the arrival of personal computers, VCRs and video game consoles has been a mixed blessing. Already, more than half the households in the U.S. have all three devices and an entire generation of students is being educated on classroom PCs.

Unfortunately, these electronic wonders can also provide easy access to gratuitous violence on demand, thanks to the anything-goes nature of the Internet and the all-tooreal graphics of today’s video games.

Save the children

Concerned by recent violent events by young people, such as school shootings, the AMA, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Psychological Association, have issued a joint report on the growing influence of media on kids. They found that programmed violence:

  • teaches some kids that violence is acceptable behavior, leading them to resort to violence to solve conflicts and carry this trait into adulthood
  • causes some kids to see the world as a mean, dangerous place where others can’t be trusted
  • teaches “victim” behaviors in which kids take extreme steps—like carrying a weapon—to protect themselves
  • is an important health risk factor in children

Health officials also say excessive TV viewing and computer use is helping to produce thousands of sedentary, overweight kids who are at risk for diabetes and high blood pressure later in life.

Tuning it out

As a concerned parent, consider these recommendations to ensure that your kids’ screen time is enjoyable as well as safe:

  • Move it. Position the TV and computer in plain sight so you can monitor what’s on. If your kids have TVs or computers in their rooms, seriously consider removing them. Studies have found that parents frequently don’t know what their children are watching.
  • Get involved. Take an active (and if need be, decisive) role in helping your kids select the programs, websites and video games they want.
  • Show and tell. Watch and discuss with your kids the content of programs they watch. Teach them to be critical viewers who don’t have to believe everything they see.
  • Turn it off. Stop thinking of the TV, computer or other electronics as expensive babysitters. Limit their use to an hour or two each day. Urge your kids to read, play a board game or visit their friends instead.