- 83% of studies found a relationship with obesity
- 88% found a relationship to sexual behaviour
- 75% found a relationship to drug use
- 80% found a relationship to alcohol use
- 88% found a relationship to tobacco use
- 69% found a relationship to ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
In releasing the report this week one of the researchers, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, of the NIH, commented that:
"The results clearly show that there is a strong correlation between media exposure and long-term negative health effects to children. This study provides an important jumping-off point for future research that should explore both the effects of traditional media content and that of digital media -- such as video games, the Internet, and cell phones -- which kids are using today with more frequency."While there are many benefits of new media there are clearly disadvantages if children spend too much time with machines that generate images, and sound and not enough time with people, engaging in real relationships, exploring their physical world, playing, listening to stories and engaging in ways that stimulate them in other ways. I've written a great deal about the alternative benefits of things such as play (here), reading (here) and creative activities (here).
This latest research comes on top of an increasing number of studies that are demonstrating that excessive exposure to media like television, video games and computers, can actually change the activity and ‘shape’ of the brain as well as slowing down activity (I'll post on this later).
It’s important to keep stressing that new media has many benefits and that while excessive use can be a problem, it can also have benefits. For example, one interesting study at UCLA found that computer use for older people (aged 55-76) might even increase brain function for some (here). But the overwhelming message that we are receiving from research is that too much television, gaming or computer use can be harmful for children.
From my perspective, as a research interested in children’s early learning, my sense is that we haven’t even begun to consider the questions related to this topic. For example, what is the impact of the loss of play, book reading and human interaction on children? Evidence of a general nature and developmental research, shows that adult child interaction is critical to early emotional and intellectual development. This work alone would suggest that the loss of time spent playing, talking to others, listening to stories and so on, will be detrimental. There are other related questions. Readers of this blog will be ready to ask, how much time is too much? How little time with adults is too little? It’s difficult to answer such questions but here’s are a few suggestions based on what I know of research in learning, interaction, language and communication and emerging work on new media:
Children aged 0-2
- Constant interaction with adults (preferably a parent) – singing, talking to, providing different experiences, reading to them etc.
- No TV, videos etc - this is almost impossible if there are older siblings, but there are much more important things to do for the very young child.
- Shared mealtimes – most if not all.
- Lots of interaction as part of everyday life – talking with them in the car, in the kitchen, in the bath, while watching TV together.
- Planned experiences – exploring the garden, the house, the physical environment, creative play, craft, music, and introduction to computer sites for kids (together!), lots of stories read to them (at least 30 minutes a day in several blocks), ‘writing’ and drawing.
- Deliberate efforts to cultivate shared interests with your children (special TV, favourite past-times or hobbies, music, sport etc).
- Limited TV or computer use (no more than 60 minutes per day).
- Shared mealtimes – at least 10 meals a week together (with at least one parent, preferably two if there are two at home).
- Lots of interaction as part of everyday life – debriefing after school, chatting at mealtime, planned talk (ask them questions) as part of other activities.
- Planned experiences – provide varied experiences for your children including outings, the movies together, visit the library, shop together, visit people, do some outdoor physical activity together (the pool, some sport, the park etc), develop some shared interests and hobbies – build common ground!
- Read with them and listen to their reading.
- Spend some time exploring the Internet with them and not just as part of school activities, show them how to use the Internet as a tool.
- Try to limit TV and video games to 60-90 minutes per day
- Shared mealtimes – at least 6 meals per week together (with at least one parent, preferably two if there are two at home).
- Lots of interaction – make time to talk and be deliberate about it if they are reluctant. Make the effort, many teenagers find it easy to withdraw from adults, don’t let them!
- Planned activities – still try to do things together; find common interests, watch some TV together, play some sport or follow their sport, engage yourself in at least one of their interests.
- Talk about their schoolwork and have active involvement.
- Encourage and demonstrate wise use of media – don’t give them a TV for their room; avoid providing a state-of-the-art sound system in their room; don’t have a computer in their room have one that they use in a more public space.
- Open your house to their friends and get to know them as well; make your home welcoming to their friends with you as part of it.
- Try to discourage large blocks of individual time on computers, playing video games, TV and Internet surfing (2-3 hours a day is more than enough).
While there are wonderful benefits from new media (I'm enjoying one right now!), research is showing us that over-use can be harmful for children. There is a real danger that as parents lives become more busy and complicated that we will allow new media to fill spaces that previously would have been filled by family interaction. We should not allow this to happen if we value the wellbeing of our children and the quality of the relationship that we have with them.
Washington Post article, “Media Bombardment Is Linked To Ill Effects During Childhood” here
Media Awareness Network article, “Television’s Impact on Kids” here
“TV Numbs the brain” here
My posts previous posts that address the impact of TV here