How to handle the issue of your child’s exposure to media

Media Exposure

Television and other media, such as movies, video games, computers and music, are deeply woven into the fabric of everyday life in many parts of the world. In fact, more families in the United States own televisions than own telephones.

Children Need People, Not Characters

Some television programs and videos are created and promoted as being “educational” or “stimulating” for infants and toddlers. However, research on early brain development shows that young children benefit more from direct interaction with other people than with television or video characters. Babies and toddlers need contact with parents and other caretakers to develop appropriate social, emotional and mental skills. The American Academy of Pediatrics and other experts urge parents to avoid television viewing for children younger than 2 years.

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Establish Good Habits Early

Studies have shown that in a typical week, the average child between the ages of 2 and 7 years spends more than three hours per day watching television, playing video games, watching videos, using a computer and listening to music. Children between the ages of 8 and 18 years spend twice that amount of time using media — more than six hours per day, or 47 hours per week, the equivalent of a full-time job. These media habits may be established as early as age 1 or 2 years. Setting limits early in life may help avoid arguments with your children over limiting media exposure when they get older.

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Limit Negative Influences

Many media programs, songs and games are beneficial for children, with educational, creative, diverse and thought-provoking content. However, concerns also exist about the potential negative influence on children. For example, increased television watching has been associated with childhood obesity and poor school performance. Media violence also may increase aggressive behavior in some children, desensitize children to violence, affect their schoolwork, and distort their view of the world. Even cartoons that are thought to be appropriate for young children contain acts of violence, and references to tobacco and alcohol.

Watch What They Watch

If your child does watch television or videos, at home or with another caretaker, first watch the program carefully yourself, and make sure it is appropriate for your child. Choose programs on public television or children’s videos; both are free from commercial advertisements. Consider music videos for young children; infants, toddlers and preschoolers enjoy singing and dancing.

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Limit Total Media Time

For children younger than 2 years, try to limit media time to less than an hour per day. Children older than 2 years of age should have their media use limited to no more than one to two hours per day.

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