Pediatricians Urged to Pull Plug on Entertainment

Tracking kids' TV and video game time should be priority.

Oct. 16, 2010— -- The American Academy of Pediatrics says it is time for pediatricians to include the monitoring of kids' use of TV, video games, and other entertainment media as a "high priority."

Pediatricians should ask at every well-child visit how much a child or adolescent is viewing per day and whether a TV or Internet access is in the bedroom, Dr. Victor C. Strasburger, of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and colleagues on the AAP committee recommended.

Parents need to be encouraged to educate their children about ways to critically evaluate the content of what they're watching. Moreover, parents should take the lead in encouraging children to spend time in nonvideo, nonsedentary activities, they added.

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Schools, too, need to get involved by working media education into curriculum, the AAP guidelines proposed.

"The simplest way to do this would be to incorporate principles of media education into existing programs on drug prevention and sex education," Strasburger's group wrote in the guidelines.

Media -- whether TV, movies, books, music, the Internet, or video and computer games -- should be recognized as potential health risks, they noted.

Kids and teens spend more time on these activities than anything else aside from sleep. More than 70 percent of American teens have a TV in their bedrooms, half have a video game console, and one-third have a computer with Internet access there.

The problem is that time spent on these activities often displaces more creative, active, or social activities, Strasburger's group warned. A higher level of TV use has been linked to obesity and poorer school performance.

And significant exposure to violence in the media increases the risk of aggressive behavior, desensitizes kids, and "makes them believe the world is a 'meaner and scarier' place than it is," they wrote in the guidelines.

Highly sexualized TV programs and advertising are common as well. But text messaging and online social networks also often get used for sexual or pornographic purposes.

Teaching kids skills that will equip them to decode the powerful media messages that shape their understanding of the world may make them less vulnerable to the negative aspects of media exposure, according to recent research.

Media education allows people to limit use and make positive choices about media, choose creative alternatives, develop critical thinking and viewing skills, and understand political, social, economic, and emotional implications of media.

Some countries, such as Canada, Australia, Britain, and some Latin American nations already mandate media education in the schools.

"Congress should consider mandating and funding universal media education in American schools," Strasburger's group concluded in the guidelines.

Meanwhile, pediatricians can take action by not only becoming educated themselves on these issues but watching for problems in the children they treat.

Children and teens showing aggressive behavior, academic difficulties, overweight or obesity should have an additional history taken of their media use beyond the standard questions at well-child visits, the guidelines recommended.

Office-based counseling on could result in parents of an additional one million children learning about the AAP recommendation to limit media time to two hours per day, Strasburger's group noted.

Pediatricians can also serve as role models by limiting TV and video use in waiting rooms and patient rooms, instead promoting reading, such as by having volunteer readers in waiting rooms.

"Pediatricians should also offer in-office reading programs such as Reach Out and Read, and promote active play," the guidelines suggested.