I recently came across a very candid article by a father telling about what can happen when you don’t monitor your children’s media use. “The sense of shame and sadness which came over me when I realized my infant son was an addict will stay with me forever” (www.dailymail.co.uk/article-2548365).
Children’s media use today is greater than ever. This is not surprising considering the smorgasbord of available possibilities: TV, computers, tablets, smart phones, video games. Not all children who use media are addicted. Most children are not. But a study has recently been published which shows that children whose parents monitor their use of media sleep more, perform better academically, exhibit more positive social behavior and less aggressive behavior (www.news.iastate.edu/news/2014/03/31/parentalmonitoring). Students in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, 1,323 children in total, in two communities in Iowa and Minnesota and their parents and teachers were surveyed. The first data were taken at the beginning and the final data were collected seven months later. The results were attributed to less screen time and less exposure to violence.
Preventing Childhood Obesity
Another study just published in March examined the effects of parental media monitoring on body mass index in children of 5, 7, and/or 9 years old. It was conducted over a period of 14 years from 1998 to 2012 (doi:10.001/jamapediatrics.2013.2013.5483). The results showed, interestingly, that more monitoring by mothers lowered the BMI scores. The study concluded that monitoring is important in preventing obesity in children.
Encouraging Parents to Monitor Media Use
From these studies, it’s obvious that parents need to be encouraged to monitor their children’s media use. Unfortunately, this is not so easy since, as the lead researcher of the Iowa study, Prof. Douglas Gentile, points out, parents don’t see the positive results of their monitoring for several months. So not only is it additional work for parents, but they don’t even get immediate reinforcement to continue the monitoring. He feels pediatricians should be talking to parents about this to suggest that they set limits, discuss media content with their children and point out the purpose of the different kinds of media. Most of all, he says parents have to balance media activities with non-media activities.
But what about educators? Like healthcare providers, they have access to parents. What should they be telling them? Here are a few essentials:
- Keep all screen devices in full view in the home so that their use can be monitored. This goes for TV, computers, smart phones, tablets, video games. And keep them out of your child’s bedroom.
- Don’t buy your child his or her own media device.
- Limit time spent on media and follow the schedule you set up.
- When it’s time to turn off the TV or put away other media devices, give your child a warning of about 5 or 10 minutes. This helps prevent blow-ups.
- Have toys and activities available to substitute for time not spent on media and to help prevent boredom.
- If your rules are not respected, take away the device or, in the case of TV, make it off bounds. If this causes some “stormy” days, be strong and try to get through them as best you can. They won’t last too long.
- Remember, you’re acting in your child’s best interests. There’s no substitute for parental supervision.
If you have other ideas, please share them. I’d love to hear from you.
Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mazboot/2290223478/”>Sherif Salama</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>