Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.
Q: I have a 2½ year old, and so far, per the advice of our pediatrician, she has had no screen time. However, I have heard that educational television, such as Sesame Street, can be useful to offer in small doses after the age of two. My inclination is to continue not to offer her screen time, as I am worried that she will want to spend lots of time in front of screens (television, iPad, phone, etc.), and right now she spends most of her day reading, doing puzzles, and in imaginary play. At what point does it make sense to introduce screen time, and in what manner?
–Mindful Mom, in Washington, DC …
Q: My kids (10 and 7) have been invited to a number of Halloween-themed parties this year that are being held at their schools and at the homes of a few of their friends. Several of these parties will have scary movies, scary music, and in one case (the school’s) a dramatic reading of a scary book. I’m concerned that while all of these media are “for kids”, my kids may be too scared by them. Neither of my children particularly love Halloween, and two years ago, my eldest saw a relatively tame scary movie that gave her nightmares for weeks! How can I tell what scary media will be okay for my kids and which media they should avoid?
~In Need of Halloween Help in Lincoln, NH
A: Dear Halloween,
Our culture embraces scary media as entertainment in part because it can draw quick and reliable responses from the broadest audience—the primal human response of fear crosses cultural and language barriers with ease. Normal human response to something we fear is to avoid it, as your children are doing, or to attempt to master it, by seeing it over and over again. Many parents want their children to master fear, believing that it will strengthen and prepare them for the “real world”. Avoidance, however, may be the healthier response—not only is it a survival skill that helps your children recognize and avoid danger, but it is also an expression of their natural empathy for others—they don’t want to see others threatened or hurt. …
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. …
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. …