Children today are exposed to a remarkable variety of media, such as television shows, video/electronic games, live and recorded music and videos/DVDs. In fact, children of all ages spend much more than the recommended time -- less than two hours a day -- on the above activities.
We all want to believe that these TV programs, movies, songs and games are positive experiences for our children, with creative, educational and stimulating content. Unfortunately, this often is not the case. Concerns have been raised and continue to grow about the negative impact these media exposures may have on children's interpersonal skills, attention span and overall health. For example, excessive television watching has been associated with childhood obesity, poor school performance and more aggressive behavior.
Children receive many direct and indirect messages from the media, some of which encourage behaviors that may be harmful to their health. As a result, parents and other child care providers need to think closely about the types of media their children see or hear in their day-to-day lives.
Keep these two things in mind — limit the quantity and maximize the quality. Some specific suggestions include:
While television, movies, music and video games have been a part of our lives for decades, we now must add computers and the Internet to the list of things about which we need to worry.
Most U.S. households with children ages 8 to 17 years have computers, and most of these homes have an Internet connection. Even children who do not have an Internet connection at home can easily gain access to the Internet, at school, the public library or a friend's house. This makes it nearly impossible to restrict access to computers and the Internet, introducing all of us to a completely new set of risks.
This means parents must be ever cautious about protecting their children from dangers on the Internet, including:
So, how can parents and others who care for children minimize these risks? Start by setting rules with children for online use and discussing the potential risks, particularly with older adolescents.
Specific guidelines about computers and the Internet include:
Remember that it is important to talk with your child about how serious these risks can be. They must feel comfortable communicating with you, if any confusing or potentially dangerous situation ever presents itself.
Henry H. Bernstein, D.O., is a Senior Lecturer in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. In addition, he is chief of General Academic Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth and Professor of Pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. He is the former associate chief of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital Boston.