Most parents know that spending too many hours in front of the television can be bad for our children. For many years now, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has advised parents to limit television and media viewing for children and young adults, and to eliminate it completely for babies and toddlers under the age of two.

Media, however, is an increasingly important part of our everyday lives. Much has changed since the AAP last issued a policy statement on "Media Education" in 1999. We now have iPhones and iPads, and most schools have computers with internet access in their classrooms. Movies, videos, and television shows are often available to us instantly.

Media has infiltrated our lives, and our children are no exception.

AAP Responds to Changes

In response to this growing media presence, the AAP has released an updated policy statement on "Media Education" in the November 2010 print issue of Pediatrics. Many of the concerns about children's overexposure to television and media remain the same. Media violence is still thought to increase the risk of aggressive behavior, sexual references and situations are still abundant in the media, and studies are still showing that television viewing can be directly linked to a decrease in physical activity and creative play.

So if the concerns regarding children's exposure to media and television are largely the same as they were 10 years ago, why the need for a revised policy statement now?

It's all in the numbers. According to recent research, young adults in the United States today spend more than seven hours engaged with a variety of different media (television, internet, video games, iPhones, etc.) each day, and almost two-thirds of children under two watch more than an hour of TV. These statistics represent a dramatic increase from 1999.

Updated Media Recommendations

As a result, the AAP has issued its updated policy statement in an effort to encourage pediatricians, parents, educators, and elected officials to work together in order to limit the potential negative effects that so many different and readily available forms of media may have on our children. The goal of the AAP is to not only eliminate the presence of media in unnecessary situations, but also to educate children about when and how to use media appropriately.

A few of the main suggestions include:

  • Expanding the definition of literacy to include a basic understanding of how to interpret media messages.
  • Encouraging pediatricians to ask at least two questions about media influences in a child's life at well-child visits and to advise parents on how to use media constructively in their homes.
  • Encouraging pediatricians to limit or eliminate the presence of TV and videos in their waiting rooms and to develop reading programs and initiatives instead.
  • Consideration of funding to incorporate media education into existing drug and sex education programs in American schools.
  • Encouraging increased funding for media research in the areas of early brain development, obesity, violence prevention, and sexuality.

Clearly, there is reason to be concerned about the role that increased media exposure will play in the lives of our children, and it is time to start thinking about how we as parents can teach them to use media responsibly.

Unfortunately, media can be difficult to avoid. While I've spent the morning writing about the importance of protecting our kids from the potentially harmful effects of too much television, my two-year-old has spent the morning sitting next to me, watching the entire PBS morning line-up: Dinosaur Train, Sesame Street, Word World, Barney...

If my family is any indication, it appears that the AAP has released these new guidelines just in time.

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