With all the gadgets and devices our kids are exposed to, the concept of “screen time” has evolved. There’s the TV, computer, gaming systems, portable games, iPads, and well, you get the gist. Should screen time be counted any differently on a TV than it should with video games? We asked Dr. Michael Rich, the director on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, and as you guessed, the most important thing when it comes to any kind of media interaction is being on top of what kind of media your kids are interacting with.
Dr. Rich says, “Watching certain shows, like “The Simpsons,” can be a shared cultural experience, something kids joke about and bond over with friends.” However, “The Simpsons” and shows like it are also clearly geared towards a more mature audience and can be inappropriate for younger children. The other drawback with TV is the sheer number of commercials that kids are exposed to. Parents of the Dora and Diego set are still lucky that these are commercial-free shows and kids aren’t getting inundated with ads for junk food and cool toys. In addition to monitoring what your kids are watching, Dr. Rich advises parents of school-aged children of explaining the concept of TV commercials and how their sole purpose is to market “stuff” to them.
Video games can be tricky as well. Thankfully, games promoting activity and exercise are flourishing and kids are no longer just sitting, fixated on a screen with a controller in their hands. These games also can help prevent kids from sitting and mindlessly snacking, which can easily happen while watching TV. The key issue with video games is making sure your kids are playing games that are appropriate to their age group. There are many ways to find what those games are (see related post here), but even parents of older kids should try very hard to avoid and in the very least limit the exposure their kids have to violent games. Studies have shown that over time, kids may respond to these games by becoming more anxious about their own safety, getting desensitized to violence, or, at the extreme, acting out violence themselves. “They might be quicker to throw a punch during a disagreement or even carry a weapon to school, simply because they see so much of that on the screen,” Dr. Rich says.
It goes without saying that all parents needs to take a vested interest in the media that their kids are consuming. Regardless of whether it’s TV, video games or anything else, it’s not what kind of screen they’re sitting in front of, it’s what the screen is showing that counts.
A version of this post was originally published in the May 2011 issue of Parenting School Years.
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