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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: How do you handle your child’s exposure to the media?

Seems like they’ve been saying all this since even before I was born — TV’ll rot your brain; TV’ll ruin your eyes; etc. — but here it comes again:

Too Much Media May Be Tough on Kids’ Health
Expert warns parents to limit access to computers, TV and more

TUESDAY, June 2 (HealthDay News) — Easy access to a wide variety of media increases a child’s risk for numerous health issues, such as obesity, eating disorders, drug use and early sexual activity, according to a U.S. expert.

On average, American children and teens spend more than six hours a day with media such as TV, computers, Internet, video games and VCR or DVD players — more time than they spend per day receiving formal classroom instruction, says Dr. Victor C. Strasburger of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque.

All this media access affects a variety of health issues, he wrote in the June 3 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, a special theme issue on child and adolescent health.

“The media are not the leading cause of any pediatric health problem in the United States, but they do make a substantial contribution to many health problems,” Strasburger said. Among them: violence, sex, drugs, obesity and eating disorders.

If you have children — if you hypothetically did — do you limit how much TV the kids watch? Do you watch a movie before you let them see it to gauge its appropriateness? Do the kids have computers and Internet access in their rooms? Or do you think this is alarmist fearmongering that parents can safely not worry about?

How do you handle your child’s exposure to the media?

I don’t have kids, so I’m off the hook.

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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  • I don’t have kids either, and don’t plan to. That being said, of course there would be some regulation of what they consume, it’s crazy not to do so. But that doesn’t necessarily mean not letting them see things, it can also mean letting them see them but also being there to explain what they’re seeing.

    Anyway, I’d also be sure to teach them about statistics, specifically that correlation does not equal causation, as that article implies.

  • Correlation does not equal causation. Correlation does not equal causation.

    Dr. Strasburger goes back and forth between correctly talking about “connections” between media and disease and erroneously talking about “contribution” of the media to disease. Nothing short of a randomized control trial can establish causation, and suggesting otherwise is misrepresenting your data. After all, increased media consumption and increased incidence of disease could BOTH be the result of a third factor (e.g., parental involvement). I call shenanigans on his media-mongering; a scientist would know better.

    That doesn’t invalidate your question, however. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot. My oldest kid is only 4, though, so I can’t imagine the struggle that parents of teens face. I don’t put hard limits on the amount of media my daughter consumes, but I do direct her to other activities when I feel like she’s been watching too much TV or playing too many video games. I will turn off a movie or change the channel if something comes on that’s grossly inappropriate. Internet is not an issue yet, and frankly I’m not sure how to deal with it when it becomes so. Generally I think today’s children are deprived of any semblance of privacy (mostly the result of this kind of fearmongering), and that’s very unfortunate. I’d prefer to start teaching my children the benefits and drawbacks of responsibility when they begin to demonstrate maturity. I think that’s part of becoming a well-developed adult.

    My parents allowed me a lot of access to our computer when I was young. I spent a lot of time performing minor feats of hacking (the good kind) and dialing in to various BBSes. That freedom led me to discover a talent and a passion that culminated in a successful Computer Engineering career. I’d like to think I will offer my children that same freedom, because if my parents had constantly hovered over my shoulder I’m not at all sure I would have found myself.

  • Drew Ryce

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”)

    One of the more obvious logical fallacies that I run across on a daily basis.

    If watching TV causes a weight increase then we should send more TVs to famine areas.

    That said, I raised 9 kids to adulthood. The only limitations on their watching were not before or after certain times and I turned the TV off if they argued too long about what to watch.

  • Carey

    I’m with Count Shrimpula- I limit what my kids watch to a certain extent, but I think it’s equally important to be around to explain things to them. They’re going to encounter ‘it’ sometime… and I’d rather be around for some of ‘it’ to explain our family values as related to ‘it’.

    That said, I do limit the length of time my kids watch media so they’re not completely sedentary, and we watch mostly DVDs instead of TV so that I don’t have to deal with all the “I wants” that come from the dang commercials. My kids do not have computers or TVs in their rooms.

  • Jackie

    I don’t have kids, but I remember the rules my parents made me and my sister abide: A little TV before dinner (we watched after-school cartoons), then nothing afterward until we had finished our homework. We were allowed 2 hours of TV maximum, but I don’t think we ever watched that much. We were raised as readers, so we both spent a lot of time reading books instead of watching TV.

    Things changed once we got to high school, as we got TVs for our bedrooms, which meant that the TV was on more.

    I agree with Mike Brady that correlation doesn’t mean causation; however, misogyny and sexism has long run rampant in our history and culture, and TV has the ability to broadcast those views on a massive scale – And I think it does. Shows like The Girls Next Door, The Real Housewives of [wherever], MTV’s Super Sweet 16? Come on.

  • Victor Plenty

    If I had kids they’d probably hate me. My highest concern with most media sources is the way they tend to encourage their audiences to be passive consumers of whatever message passes before their eyes.

    Thus we get people watching Fox News, and other people watching CNN or whatever, and all of them ending up with such totally incompatible worldviews that they might as well be living on different planets, in terms of their ability to communicate with people in the opposing camp.

    So, at first I’d let my kids watch small amounts of television, and then if they wanted to earn more viewing time, I’d ask them to prepare brief written or spoken reports in which they critique the messages of the programs they have already watched.

    Of course, this requirement would be in addition to keeping caught up with all their homework, getting good grades, etc.

    Yep. If I ever have kids, they’re really going to hate me.

  • Mimi

    I only have a preschooler at the moment, so I’ll answer in the now and in the hypothetical future:

    No, I don’t let the preschooler watch TV except for the occasional Curious George that I’ve tivoed or some home movies. Even that I limit to 0-30 minutes a day. We’ll have to see how this evolves, but I could imagine continuing to have some limits.

    The preschooler has never seen a movie, because she wouldn’t sit through a movie, and what’s the point? In the future, hell, no, I won’t watch a movie before showing it to my kids, because I don’t have time for that. I would, however, read reviews of it before letting them see it.

    My parents didn’t let me have a TV in my room even though I begged and got all pissy about it. Now I think they were so, so right. I would not let my kids have TV in their rooms. But computers are the new TV, of course, and I’m not sure how this will play out as my kiddo ages, with laptops and wireless and so on… but in theory, I don’t like the idea of computers and internet access in kids’ rooms.

  • GRJ

    My anecdotal evidence isn’t of any statistical value either, but…

    My household has six televisions, four computers and two teenaged girls. Each girl has had a television and a computer in her room since about age eleven. There are no restrictions on their use of these, except that they can’t stay up past a certain time. They do watch a lot of television and many DVDs, perhaps three hours a day, but I find they are very discriminating in what they will watch. They spend a moderate amount of time on the internet, probably less than I do. We often watch television together, and we do discuss what they watch, although admittedly most of the discussion is along the lines of “Nooo, they can’t cancel Pushing Daisies; I love that show!”

    If there has been a detrimental effect of their access to television and the internet, I don’t know what it is. They’re excellent students. Musicians. Constant and discerning readers. Skiers. They are healthy, and as far as I can tell not at all preoccupied with either their weight or appearance. They’re nice to their grandmothers. Maybe television causes messy bedrooms?

    Would most of us consider keeping from a child any book that kid was interested in reading? Most will choose developmentally appropriate material, revel in the good books, and learn from the bad books that good books are preferable. We probably almost all believe that we should help our kids become critical readers, and that reading broadly is part of this.

    I feel similarly about other media. Kids need to become critical consumers of television and the internet as well as of print, able to distinguish good programming from bad and reliable information from spin or lies. To learn those skills, they’ve got to explore the media.

    So? To my mind there’s an argument in favour of helping kids become media-savvy, and no compelling evidence that kids with engaged parents and plenty of opportunity for enrichment will be harmed by watching TV or browsing the internet. I let ’em watch.

  • Anne-Kari

    GRJ – I think too much TV and/or too many video games CAN be detrimental to kids, but as you demonstrated, it depends on the situation with the family. It also on the kids themselves.

    For my part, I’m pretty lax with my kids in terms of TV watching (the assorted grandparents would probably say that’s an understatement). They watch a lot, but I do monitor what they watch. It’s mostly the usual Disney stuff, Dora, Pokemon, etc. My 8 yr old is obsessed with Rock Band but plays few other games. They both have some access to kids-only MMRPG’s (Toontown, Runescape) through my husband’s computer.

    I should also say that they are both very active, eat well, and are well within normal weight for the ages (both a bit on the thin side, actually). They both love reading and being read to, and they play outside with their friends whenever the weather allows. So I feel ok about them having daily downtime to veg in front of the TV.

    That said, I have no plans to ever let them have TVs or computers in their rooms. I feel that there would be a lot less reading and playing going on, and their rooms should be ‘screen-free’. To be blunt, I just don’t trust them to turn off the TV on their own. Maybe I’ll change my mind as they get older (youngest is 5), depending on how things progress for them both, but right now it’s too often a struggle when I have to say “time to turn it off”.

    But kids are different, families are different. I will say this: I am increasingly horrified with the advertising aimed at kids. It seems that half the ads are for sugary, fatty junk food and sodas. And the ads for things like Bratz dolls are just skeevy and revolting. I worry more about the ads than I do the shows themselves or the amount of time my kids watch every day.

    Getting back to the QOTD: When it comes to movies, I don’t bother to watch a movie first before showing it to my kids. I usually rely on reviews and scan the multitude of online guides for kids movies (IMDB has a Parent Guide for most entries that specifies level of violence, cursing, sexual content, etc). I don’t mind potty humor per se – I’m more likely to avoid a ‘family’ movie because it looks like it just sucks (Cat in the Hat, anyone?). But I also draw a line at glamorized violence.

    And as for this latest article about a correlation between media saturation and children’s development, my take is this:

    The less going on in a kid’s life – family, friends, positive activities like reading or excercise being modeled by and actively encouraged by parents – the more likely the kid will oversaturate themselves with the available distractions. And the most available distraction these days? TV, video games, the internet.

    All things in moderation, folks. It’s up to us as parents to make sure that our kids have well-rounded lives. Not all TV is crap, of course – my 5 year old daughter and I have had surprisingly complicated conversations about the nature of time after watching Doctor Who.

    As always, I’m impressed with the folks who posted here. Intelligent, engaged parents are the best kind around.

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