An updated policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Media Education,” published in the November print issue of Pediatrics, reflects the dramatic changes in the media landscape over the past decade. When the statement was last issued in 1999, statistics showed children and adolescents spent more than 3 hours per day on average viewing television. Today, with the ubiquitous nature of media in multiple formats, the definition of media use has been expanded, and kids are now spending more than 7 hours per day on average using televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices for entertainment. The increasing availability of media, including access to inappropriate content that is not easily supervised, creates an urgent need for parents, pediatricians and educators to understand the various ways that media use affects children and teens.
First, excessive media time takes away from other creative, active or social activities. In addition, the content of media must be considered, including entertainment, news and advertising. Particularly important are the effects of violent or sexual content, and movies or shows that glamorize alcohol and tobacco use. Studies have associated high levels of media use with school problems, attention difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. And the Internet and cell phones have become important new sources and platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.
But media education has the potential to reduce harmful media effects, and careful selection of media can help children to learn. In addition to longstanding AAP advice about limiting, planning and supervising media use, new recommendations include:
- Pediatricians should ask at least two media-related questions at each visit: How much entertainment media per day is the child or adolescent watching? (The AAP recommends that children have less than two hours of screen time per day, and viewing should be avoided for children under 2.) Is there a TV set or Internet access in the child or teen’s bedroom?
- Parents should be good media role models; emphasize alternate activities; and create an “electronic media-free” environment in children’s bedrooms.
- Schools should begin to implement media education in their curricula, and Congress should consider funding universal media education in schools.
- The federal government and private foundations should dramatically increase their funding for media research.
The authors conclude that a media-educated person will be able to limit his or her media use, make positive media choices, develop critical thinking and viewing skills, and be less vulnerable to negative effects of media content and advertising. In addition, simply reducing children’s and adolescents’ screen media use has been shown conclusively to have beneficial health effects.