Pediatricians: Television Unhealthy For Young Minds

The next time you take your kids to the doctor, you may be asked how much television they watch.

Their "media history" will be examined as part of the American Academy of Pediatricians'  (AAP) program to counter TV and other media's adverse effects on children's health. And the first step for doctors is to determine just how much TV, movie, video game and music content are being absorbed by their patients' pliant young brains.

The media history includes a wide range of questions on content, supervision and behaviors, including: The academy, which spent two years developing the policy, suggested in 1990 that children be limited to one to two hours of "quality'' programming a day. In 1997, the AAP launched a campaign to educate pediatricians on the influences television can have on children.

Groups including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the National Institute of Mental Health have linked aggressiveness in older children to violence in movies and television in several studies.

"Do you watch TV with your child or know what your child is watching?"

"Do you allow your child to eat meals or snacks while watching TV?"

"Have you talked to your child about [music] lyrics you object to?"

"Do you have any specific concerns about your child's own sense of body image or sexuality, [or] your child's displays of aggressive behavior or use of foul language?"

The ill effects of too much Power Rangers or Dawson's Creek for young kids fall into two categories, experts say. Forgoing physical activity and social interaction by basking in the blue glow can lead to obesity, depression and poor school performance. But even more troubling, experts say, is the tendency for children to emulate fictional characters whose behavior translates to real-world health risks.

There's clearly a link between viewing violent television and more aggressive behaviors. It doesn't stop there: Eating disorders, smoking and drug and alcohol abuse have all been cited as behaviors encouraged by certain movies and television shows.

And then there's sex. The AAP notes that the average young viewer is exposed to more than 14,000 sexual references each year, yet only a handful of shows provide an accurate portrayal of responsible sexual behavior or accurate information about birth control, abstinence or the risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Under the new AAP guidelines, pediatricians are to advise parents to screen what their children watch, to view programs with their kids, and to discuss issues as they come up. The guidelines also strongly advise parents to ban television for children under two, who have a critical need for direct interactions for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional and cognitive skills.

Pediatrics August 1999

COMMENT: I am delighted to see the AAP come down hard on TV. I have the television in my home hooked up, aside from viewing occasional educational documentaries, for the last seven months and I am delighted at the decision.

I do not have any children, but I believe that the addicting potential of TV is so high that most of all of us cannot easily control it and would benefit from canceling the cable subscription.  Now if the AAP would only come to the truth about immunizations.

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