Children and Electronic Media

Kid on Computer
Children's Advocate
Jessine Foss
November 21, 2011

Research shows that heavy use of electronic media can have significant effects on children’s behavior, health, and how well they do in school. These effects are most related to excessive screen time, violent content, and advertising, says Dimitri Christakis of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. You can help minimize negative impacts of electronic devices such as TV, video games, computers, and cell phones.

Benefits of Educational Programs

Quality educational programs can help children develop important skills. For example, “Sesame Street has been shown to improve early literacy and prosocial skills. The best programs have curriculum behind them and parents can assess if children are learning the lesson,” says Christakis.

Effects of Violence

“There is ample research that links TV [viewing] to real-world aggression,” says Christakis. “But it’s not TV—it’s what’s being watched. There’s an enormous amount of violence on TV,” including cartoon violence.

Watching a lot of simulated violence can lead to “desensitization, an appetite for violence, less inclination to help strangers, and [being] more fearful,” adds Tessa Jolls, President of Center for Media Literacy.

Impact on Schoolwork

When children use a lot of electronic media, they spend less time on other activities, including reading and studying. Children who are heavy media users are more likely to do poorly in school.

Some studies link young children’s TV viewing with later attention and behavior problems in school, even if children were not actively watching the TV.

Toll on Health

“There is very good evidence that TV is linked to obesity [because of] food advertising and eating while viewing,” says Christakis. Children see thousands of ads per year—mostly for junk food, fast food, and toys. More time with electronic media often means children spend less time being active or playing outside. Children may have trouble sleeping if they use media in the evening or have a bedroom TV.

Reinforcement of Stereotypes

Electronic media can promote negative stereotypes that affect how children see gender roles and people of color. For example, most video game characters are male and white, especially heroes.

What You Can Do

When you reduce children’s time with electronic media, you help limit its negative effects. Experts recommend children be limited to no more than two hours of screen media per day. Keep all electronic media devices out of children’s bedrooms and also keep violent video games away from children.

Make sure children are viewing quality TV programs, games, and websites, says Christakis. Watch programs with your child, and pre-record them so you can skip commercials. Also, monitor how children use the internet and who they interact with online.

Talking about what children see on the screen and in ads helps them counteract negative messages. Point out positive behavior and talk about the real consequences of violence. This helps children limit media use and develop critical thinking skills.

For more information:


This article was originally published by Children's Advocate.  It is reprinted here with permission.

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