Doctors don’t talk much to their patients about Facebook. And it’s a rare visit to the pediatrician when your child’s cell phone use comes up.
But those at the American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting in San Francisco Oct. 2-5 were told it’s time they start talking and asking: The use of media (social and otherwise) is a public health issue.
“Children learn from the media. All media … Sesame Street or Grand Theft Auto,” said Michael Rich, MD, director of the Center of Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston. “There is no virtual world. This is their real world.”
While many people point to the beneficial effects of educational TV for children — it prepares them for school and still shows positive outcomes on the viewers years later — many don’t seem to worry about the detrimental effects of too much “screen time” or some media’s content that is heavily laced with sex and violence. (Dr. Rich says he’s seen patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms the result of just watching violent video games being played.)
Dr. Rich shared some startling numbers with his collected colleagues:
- There are more homes with seven or more TVs than there are with just one
- 45 percent of homes have the TV on nearly all the time someone is home
- Children ages 8 to 18 view on average seven and a half hours of TV or computer games a day. In addition, they talk on the phone for half an hour and add another 90 minutes of texting
- 26 percent of children under the age of 2 have a television in their rooms; and 79 percent of them watch some TV.
The results are frightening, as well. Twice as many heavy users of media (20 percent) are unhappy with life compared with their peers that spend less time in front of a video screen. Nearly half the heavy users have bad grades, compared to just one-in-five of the light users. There are also problems of obesity and anti-social behavior.
Dr. Rich prescribed the Five Cs for doctors to get a grip on this growing health problem.
- Control the time
- Content matters (pay attention)
- Context is important (watch TV with your kids)
- Critical thinking (help your kids think)
- Create and model media mastery (He said doctors who don’t pay much attention to media use as a health issue are, themselves, heavy media users.)
Dr. Rich said he encourages children and their parents to get unplugged. He said it’s healthy to let the mind wander and not be hit at all times with outside stimuli from the media.
“Bring back boredom,” he said.
We’re on board. And we encourage you, too … just as soon as you finish reading us online and telling us what you think. 😉