Stories about: Computers & internet

It’s time for pediatricians to change our advice about media

Television—screen-time in general, really—is a problem for children. Kids who watch too much of it are more likely to be overweight. Violent programming and video games can make kids more aggressive, sexualized programming can make kids more likely to have sex early, fast-paced programming can mess up executive functioning in preschoolers.

Because of our worries about the effects of television, the standard advice of pediatricians has been: turn it off. We say that children under the age of 2 shouldn’t watch any television at all, and everybody else shouldn’t watch more than two hours.

The problem is, people aren’t listening to us.

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How do I keep my toddler from throwing a tantrum when I turn off the DVD player?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Children’s Hospital Boston’s media expert and director of Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Take a look at his blog archive or follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston

Q: Each morning while I shower and get dressed, I let my two-year-old son watch 10-15 minutes of an innocuous video. This has worked well to keep him safe and still while I shower, but he pitches a fit every time I turn the movie off, despite the fact that we do this same routine every day and have discussed several times that movie watching is just for when Mommy is in the shower. This is the only transition in his routine that turns him into a screaming monster every single day. I don’t think it’s good for either of us, but I’m not sure what else would be as effective at keeping him safe while I’m in the shower. Any suggestions?

Showers and Storms, in Boston, MA

A: Dear Showers,

Based on how long your shower routine takes (10-15 minutes) and your son’s reaction to the video being turned off, my guess is that the shower and the video don’t finish at the same time. Toddlers have a hard time leaving a story unfinished, especially when the reason for doing so (in this case, how long it takes you to get ready) has nothing to do with them. And explaining to them that they have to fit to your schedule, as you’ve found, doesn’t really work.

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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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Do toddlers and iPads mix?

Children are using iPads earlier and earlier. Is it affecting development? flickr/remcovandermeer

Apple’s iPhone and iPad technology has revolutionized communication. The way millions of Americans interact with media, personal contacts and the Internet is now largely funneled through an Apple shaped logo. But are these machines so influential they could shape the mental and emotional development of young users?

Because these devices are so new, there’s not enough hard scientific data to know for sure. But the fact that more than half of the young children in the United States now have access to an iPad, iPhone or similar touch-screen device means the time to ask these questions is now.

So that’s exactly what Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Worthen did. Worthen spoke with many childhood development experts, including Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health, to find out how touch-screen technology is affecting the development of millions of young users. Here’s a brief video describing what he learned.

Until more data is collected, the scientific community remains split on how touch-screen technology affects kids. But there is one thing that they all agree on: parents know their children best and should be the final decision-maker on if and when this type of technology is appropriate in their house.

Does your child use an iPad, iPhone or tablet? If so, are you pleased or worried about her reaction to its interactive nature? Let us know in the comment section or our Facebook wall.

Read the entire Wall Street Journal on toddlers and iPads. Dr. Rich participated a live chat on the topic with parents on The Wall Street Journal’s website. Follow the conversation here: Should Your Toddler Use a Tablet?

You may also enjoy these stories on how touch-screen technology has shaped the lives of some of our patients and their families:

Are kids benefiting from all these electronics?

The new digital reality: why parents and pediatricians may need to rethink their messaging

Can the new iPad take therapy apps to the next level?

Mobile Mamas: Parenting in the smartphone age

Touchscreen technology helps kids with cerebral palsy

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