Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Parents surrendering, then losing kids to "screens"

My friend and fellow media activist Jean Rystrom of Kaiser Permanente is a great source of information about trends in excessive, damaging "screen-time" use among children.

In the last two days, she has sent me and others two telling e-mails. The first is a link to a Wall Street Journal column, "Teenage Zombies," which echoes many concerns I've heard recently from parents. The primary one is that kids are becoming addicted to video games and are isolating themselves from their families and others.

The second lays out the alarming exposure of very young children to screen images, despite the medical community's warnings about the dangers posed, particularly to those under two. Parents, it seems, are turning over responsibility for their children's well-being to television programmers and TV hucksters.

Here's her report, which I have edited slightly:

I'm sending you a four-part series (one a week) of my brief impressions from important medical studies in 2007 pertaining to screen time (you'll be happy to know that I'm leaving out articles which pertain primarily to content as opposed to time). Consider all of the usual caveats: I'm not a researcher, and I "might" be biased.

This first message is simply an update, particularly about younger children. The issue continues to grow in importance and urgency as more opportunities to watch are developed and marketed, and aimed at younger and younger kids. Clearly we continue to have a lot of work to do: raising awareness is still a priority. Most parents are not aware that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time at all before age 2 (which has more to do with brain development than obesity, although that too is an ever more serious problem).

* 20 percent of children under age 3 have a TV in their bedroom

* 43 percent of children age 3 and 4 have a TV in their bedroom

* Most common reason cited by parents (54 percent): "it frees up other televisions in the house for other family members to watch their own shows"

* 27 percent of 5 and 6 year olds use a computer on a typical day

- Vandewater et al, Pediatrics, May 2007

* By 3 months of age, about 40 percent of children regularly watched television, DVDs, or videos

* The median age for introduction was 9 months

* Average 1 hour per day by age 12 months

* Parent reasons: education, entertainment, and babysitting

- Zimmerman et al, Archive of Pediatric Adolescent Med, May 2007

Jean and I are part of a coalition making a major push in the next two years to ensure that the dangers of early childhood exposure to screens are widely known and addressed in Oregon. Jean represents Kaiser Permanente (see its excellent website on screen time and its impact on kids); I represent Media Think. Other members include the State Health Department, Multnomah County Library, the County Health Department, WIC (Women, Infants and Children), Community Health Partners and the Oregon PTA.

We'll keep you informed of our progress.

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