Impact of media use on children and youth
The influence of the media on the psychosocial development of children is profound. Thus, it is important for physicians to discuss with parents their child’s exposure to media and to provide guidance on age-appropriate use of all media, including television, radio, music, video games and the Internet.
The objectives of this statement are to explore the beneficial and harmful effects of media on children’s mental and physical health, and to identify how physicians can counsel patients and their families and promote the healthy use of the media in their communities.
Television has the potential to generate both positive and negative effects, and many studies have looked at the impact of television on society, particularly on children and adolescents (1,2). An individual child’s developmental level is a critical factor in determining whether the medium will have positive or negative effects. Not all television programs are bad, but data showing the negative effects of exposure to violence, inappropriate sexuality and offensive language are convincing (3). Still, physicians need to advocate continued research into the negative and positive effects of media on children and adolescents.
Current literature suggests the following:
Physicians can change and improve children’s television viewing habits (4). Canadian children watch excessive amounts of television (5,6). There is a relationship between watching violent television programming and an increase in violent behaviour by children (2,7). Excessive television watching contributes to the increased incidence of childhood obesity (8,9). Excessive television watching may have a deleterious effect on learning and academic performance (10). Watching certain programs may encourage irresponsible sexual behaviour (11). Television is an effective way of advertising products to children of various ages (12). The average Canadian child watches nearly 14 h of television each week (13). By his/her high school graduation, the average teen will have spent more time watching television than in the classroom (2). Studies show how time spent watching television varies between different age groups and cultures (1,13). This is especially relevant when studying the effects of excessive television exposure on disadvantaged populations.
The amount of time that younger North American children currently spend watching television has not decreased significantly (14). A substantial number of children begin watching television at an earlier age and in greater amounts than what experts recommend (15). Evidence suggests that television’s influence on children and adolescents is related to how much time they spend watching television (1,2,16). As a result, with prolonged viewing, the world shown on television becomes the real world (1,2).
Television viewing frequently limits children’s time for vital activities such as playing, reading, learning to talk, spending time with peers and family, storytelling, participating in regular exercise, and developing other necessary physical, mental and social skills (9). In addition to the amount of time spent in front of the television, other factors that influence the medium’s effect on children include the child’s developmental level, individual susceptibility and whether children watch television alone or with their parents.
Television can be a powerful teacher (17). Watching Sesame Street is an example of how toddlers can learn valuable lessons about racial harmony, cooperation, kindness, simple arithmetic and the alphabet through an educational television format. Some public television programs stimulate visits to the zoo, libraries, bookstores, museums and other active recreational settings, and educational videos can certainly serve as powerful prosocial teaching devices. The educational value of Sesame Street, has been shown to improve the reading and learning skills of...
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