Campaign for America's Kids

No. 54; December 2015

Children and adolescents spend a significant amount of time watching screens each day - including televisions, gaming consoles, computers, tablet devices and smartphones. Children in the United States ages 8 -18 spend on average 7.5 hours a day with media and technology screens.

Television watching is now done on all of these devices – including Netflix, Hulu and Youtube as well as traditional broadcast television. By the time of high school graduation, they will have spent more time watching screens than they have in the classroom. While screen time can entertain, inform, and keep our children company, it may also influence them in undesirable ways.

Time spent watching electronic media takes away from important activities such as reading, school work, playing, exercise, family interaction, and social development. Children also learn information from electronic media that may be inappropriate or incorrect. They often cannot tell the difference between the fantasies seen on screens versus reality. They are also influenced by the thousands of commercials seen each year, many of which are for alcohol, junk food, fast foods, and toys.

Children who watch a lot of electronic media are likely to:

  • Have lower grades in school
  • Read fewer books
  • Exercise less
  • Be overweight

Violence, sexuality, race and gender stereotypes, drug and alcohol abuse are common themes of video programs. Young children are impressionable and may assume that what they see on their screens is typical, safe, and acceptable. As a result, these video programs also expose children to behaviors and attitudes that may be overwhelming and difficult to understand.

Active parenting can ensure that children have a positive experience with electronic media. Parents can help by:

  • Viewing programs with your children
  • Selecting developmentally appropriate shows
  • Placing limits on the amount of television viewing and screen time (per day and per week)
  • Turning off the screens during family meals and study time
  • Turning off shows or programming you don't feel are appropriate for your child

In addition, parents can help by doing the following: don't allow children have long blocks of screen time, but help them select individual programs. Choose shows that meet the developmental needs of your child. Children's video programming on public TV and other educational websites are appropriate, but soap operas, adult sitcoms, and adult talk shows are not. Set certain periods when all household screens will be turned off. Study times are for learning, not for sitting in front of the TV doing homework. Meal times are a good time for family members to talk with each other, not for watching their smartphone, tablet or television.

Encourage discussions with your children about what they are seeing as you watch shows with them. Point out positive behavior, such as cooperation, friendship, and concern for others. While watching, make connections to history, books, places of interest, and personal events. Talk about your personal and family values as they relate to the programming. Ask children to compare what they are watching with real events. Talk about the realistic consequences of violence. Discuss the role of advertising and its influence on buying. Encourage your child to be involved in hobbies, sports, and peers. With proper guidance, your child can learn to use television in a healthy and positive way.

Make Screen Time an Active Process for Child and Parent!

See also: Your Child (1998 Harper Collins) / Your Adolescent (1999 Harper Collins)

Order Your Child from Harper Collins
Order Your Adolescent from Harper Collins

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The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) represents over 8,700 child and adolescent psychiatrists who are physicians with at least five years of additional training beyond medical school in general (adult) and child and adolescent psychiatry.

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