According to a Neilsen study released this week, children between the ages of 2 to 11, are watching more than a day a week of television, and older children watch an average of 3 hours and 20 minutes a day. Patricia McDonough, Nielsen’s senior vice president of insights, analysis and policy, says the increase in viewing is the result of “more programming targeted at kids” and extra media outlets such as video on demand. “When I was a kid, I had Saturday morning cartoons,” McDonough said. “And now there are programs they want to watch available to them whenever they want to watch them.”
Children’s health advocates are alarmed by these findings which link excessive viewing to delayed language skills and obesity. Dr. Vic Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said, “The biggest misconception is that it’s harmless entertainment,” said Strasburger, who has written extensively about the effects of media on children. “Media are one of the most powerful teachers of children that we know of. When we in this society do a bad job of educating kids about sex and drugs, the media pick up the slack.” The AAP recommends little-to-no TV viewing for children four-and-under and less than 10 hours per week (about 1 ½ hours per day) for children in grades K-12. Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said the way infants are exposed to media shapes their future relationship with television.
“Once you start hooking babies on media, it’s harder to limit it,” she said. “If we start children early in life on a steady diet of screen time and electronic toys, they don’t develop the resources to generate their own amusement, so they become dependent on screens.”
In a 2004 study by Dr. Dimitri Christakis and his colleagues, they reported for the Journal of Pediatrics that early TV viewing (ages 1 and 3 were studied) is associated with attentional problems (ADHD) at a later age (age 7). The children studied watched a mean of 2.2 hours per day at age 1 and 3.6 hours per day at age 3. Specifically, Christakis reports that watching about five hours of TV per day at age 1 is associated with a 28% increase in the likelihood of having attentional problems at age 7. Further, in 2000, the American Psychological Association “publicly denounced the use of psychological techniques to assist corporate advertising to children. The average child watches over 40,000 commercials per year. In addition to potentially damaging a child’s self-esteem, many ads also likely contribute to health problems, given that the most common products marketed to children include sugared cereals, candies, sodas, and snack foods. A child’s diet heavy in such foods may contribute to the increase in the number of overweight children and the rise in diabetes, especially given the sedentary behavior of children.”
The Role of Schools
Schools can play a key role as a hub in their communities to inform families on these kinds of issues. In particular, school counselors, who are often at the forefront of these trends, can promote behaviors consistent with academic, emotional and social success. Questions to consider:
- How can we as child advocates and educators better support counselors in their roles as leaders for promoting a healthy school community?
- How can we spark an appetite among students for healthy alternatives to excessive media use, such as reading and extracurricular activities, while embracing the positive aspects of technology?
- What do these kinds of addictive behaviors, including video gaming, tell us about our students and our responsibility as educators to prepare them to become critical and creative thinkers for the 21st century?
Los Angeles Times
by Matea Gold
Reporting from New York – More than an entire day — that’s how long children sit in front of the television in an average week, according to new findings released Monday by Nielsen.
The amount of television usage by children reached an eight-year high, with kids ages 2 to 5 watching the screen for more than 32 hours a week on average and those ages 6 to 11 watching more than 28 hours. The analysis, based on the fourth quarter of 2008, measured children’s consumption of live and recorded TV, as well as VCR and game console usage.
“They’re using all the technology available in their households,” said Patricia McDonough, Nielsen’s senior vice president of insights, analysis and policy. “They’re using the DVD, they’re on the Internet. They’re not giving up any media — they’re just picking up more.”
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