Stories about: Center on Media and Child Health

Is your child media savvy?

Everyday young people are bombarded with images on TV, movies and the Internet. In that media blitz they are often exposed to advertisements, both direct and subtle, promoting everything from the newest clothes to the coolest toys. But bikes and shoes aren’t the only products marketers are trying to sell to kids; many products that negatively affect child health are also being pushed, with some serious repercussions. For instance, research shows a direct link between increases in advertising of non-nutritious foods and skyrocketing childhood obesity rates.

But if children were more aware of the influential nature of media, would they be less susceptible to it?

The answer is yes, according to a recent study published in Journal of Children and Media, and co-authored by David Bickham, PhD, staff scientist at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH) and Ronald Slaby, PhD, senior scientist at CMCH.

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How can I stop my teen from texting while driving?

Last week, Aaron Deveau, 18, was found guilty of motor vehicle homicide by texting and became the first in the state to be sent to prison for driving while texting.

According to reports, after being distracted by his phone, Deveau swerved his car into oncoming traffic. The resulting accident killed a 55-year-old father of three.

In a single moment, many lives were destroyed. But what makes this story even more tragic is that it was so easily avoidable. In the following blog, Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert, Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health, shares practical tips for parents on how to keep their teens from texting while behind the wheel.

Q: I’ve been begging my teen son not to text while driving, but I know he does it anyway. What can I do to get him to stop?

–Texting and Driving in Beverly, MA

A: Dear Texting and Driving,

You’re right to be concerned–according to a new study from the CDC, one third of U.S. teens report texting while driving. The issue has come front and center this past week, when an 18 year old became the first person in Massachusetts to be convicted of causing a fatal car crash while texting.

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

But stories like this and state prohibitions on texting and driving may not get the reaction you’re looking for from your son. Research shows that knowing it’s dangerous doesn’t necessarily deter some young adults from texting while driving. And because his brain won’t be able to fully process long-term consequences until he’s in his 20s, the idea that an accident like this could happen to him may just not feel real.

To get the message across, try approaching the issue in a way:

  1. Make sure to touch on consequences that he can grasp. Although it’s important to talk about the very real dangers of texting while driving, it might help to also discuss those that are closer to what he has experienced–like not being allowed to drive. The young man who was convicted this week had his license revoked by a judge for 15 years.
  2. Work with him to establish clear rules for cell phone use. He’ll want to have his cell phone with him when he’s in the car, but it doesn’t have to be a distraction. Ask him what would help him keep his eyes on the road–turning the phone off completely? Leaving it in the glove compartment or the trunk? If he owns the solution, he is more likely to feel ownership of it and to abide by it.
  3. Together, create real consequences for not abiding by the rules. Agree ahead of time on what happens if he does text while driving. Maybe for a period of time he loses the privilege of driving the car–or of having a phone.
  4. Praise what he does well, and follow through on the consequences when he slips up. Both will reinforce how important this issue is.
  5. Model the behavior you’d like to see–and put your phone away while you’re driving, too. He will listen far more closely to what you do than to what you say.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

The Mediatrician®

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Is The Hunger Games movie too scary for younger fans of the book?

Scene from The Hunger Games movie

The movie The Hunger Games opens today, and record tickets sales are expected to make the grisly, post-apocalyptic, survival tale one of the spring’s biggest blockbusters. Like the Harry Potter and Twilight series before it, The Hunger Games film is based on a book written for young adults that has captured the imaginations of readers of all ages.

Considering the ultraviolent nature of The Hunger Games’ plot line—24 teenage protagonists are pitted against each other in a fight to the death—is all this hype a good thing for young, would-be fans? The intended age for young adult novels is 12 to 17, but the books’ popularity has piqued the interest of much younger readers. Not wanting to sully their younger children’s budding interest in reading, many parents across the country have allowed them to read the story.

But just because your child has read The Hunger Game books, does that mean she’s ready to watch it’s bloody action unfold on the big screen? The answer will vary from child to child, but it’s a question parents of younger Hunger Game fans need to ask.

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How can I limit my teen’s Internet time without distracting him from homework or invading his privacy?

We recently ran a post on whether or not it’s OK for parents to monitor their teenagers’ Facebook page if they suspect the child is engaging in risky behaviors like drinking or drug use. In this blog by Children’s media expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, a parent asks for advice on how to balance her desire to respect her son’s online privacy while still setting limits on much time he spends on the computer.

Q: My 16-year-old son uses the computer constantly at home in his room and almost always claims he is doing homework. He doesn’t want me to look over his shoulder and see what he is doing when I come into his room, and frankly, I want to allow him his privacy when he is on the computer, as well as in other areas of his life. I believe that he spends too much time on the computer, to the detriment of other activities such as time with family, reading, extracurricular activities, etc., but he disagrees and doesn’t want to be controlled by his parents. Any suggestions?

-Computer confused mom, NY, NY

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