Media Addiction in Kids: How to Set Family Limits 37685

From television to cell phones, iPads, and social media, media use has become a key part of most people's lives in recent years. For many (myself included, I hate to admit), cell phones and other devices have practically become appendages—and our use of them somewhat addictive. As reported recently in the New York Times article, Baby's First iPhone App, even toddlers are getting in on the act by playing with their parents' devices—and in some cases, getting their own as a birthday or holiday gift!

In a follow up to a 2011 survey by the same name, Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America 2013 was conducted between May 20 and June 12, 2013 with 1,463 parents of children age 8 and under. According to the survey, children's access to mobile media devices is dramatically higher than it was two years ago. In fact, the survey reveals a fivefold increase in ownership of some type of "smart" mobile device. Whereas only 8% of families reported they owned one in 2011, a whopping 40% report they owned one in 2013. And while only about half of the children had access to a device in 2011, three quarters have access in 2013.

The survey also finds that children between the ages of 0 and 8 spend an average 1 hour and 55 minutes in front of a screen—that's 21 minutes less than in 2011. But while total screen time decreased, time spent using mobile devices like cell phones and iPads is just about triple what it was in 2011. Thirty eight percent of children used mobile devices to play games, watch videos, or use apps in 2011; that number jumped to 72% of children 2013. And while only 10% of children under the age of 2 used a mobile device for media in 2011, that number has jumped to 38% in 2013.

According to the survey, TV is still at the center of kids' media lives. Of the 1 hour and 55 minutes spent in front of any screen, 57 minutes is spent in front of a TV screen. The remaining 68 minutes is spent watching DVDs, using computers, playing video games and using mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

Older kids spend substantially more time in front of screens. According to the 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation Study, kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend about 7.5 hours a daily watching TV and movies, and using computers, video games and cell phones.

Of course technology use can't be all bad—and it can have its perks. And of course we all know how much fun it can be as well! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), media literacy and prosocial uses of media—traditional forms like TV and "new media" like cell phones, iPads, and social media—may enhance knowledge, connectedness, and health. But the APA also says media contribute substantially to various risks and health problems and that children and teenagers learn from, and may be negatively influenced by, the media.

For example, there's evidence that screen time (TV time in particular) can interfere with sleep and contribute to the development of obesity among children. A new study of almost 3,000 Australian children followed from 4- to 5-years-of-age until 8- to 9-years-of-age found that short sleep duration at 4- to 5-years-of-age was significantly associated with higher body mass index at 8- to 9-years-of-age. Researchers suggested that this result was due, at least in part, to increased TV viewing at 6- to 7-years-of-age.

A previous study published in Appetite surveyed the parents of more than 9,000 Australian children about their children's eating and TV viewing habits. Researchers found that those who watched TV were more likely to gain weight, and individuals who were heavier were also more likely to watch TV. They concluded that sedentary behaviors—particularly when paired with unhealthy dietary habits—significantly increase the risk for excessive weight gain in early childhood, and that it's important to have interventions to help parents help their young children develop healthy TV viewing and eating habits.

Technology is here to stay, and as I often say when talking to other parents—whether they're friends, family, or Parents readers—we need to learn as we go since there's no handbook for how to raise children to use technology in a way that enhances—rather than sabotages—their physical and emotional health. To provide some guidance, a new policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics called Children, Adolescents, and the Media suggests the following recommendations for parents:

  • Parents can model effective "media diets" to help their children learn to be selective and healthy in what they consume. Take an active role in children's media education by co-viewing programs with them and discussing values.
  • Make a family media use plan, including mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices. Screens should be kept out of kids' bedrooms.
  • Limit entertainment screen time to less than 1 or 2 hours per day; in children under 2, discourage screen media exposure.

I don't know about you, but I'm going to try to follow and implement the above guidelines in my home. I'll report how it goes in a future Scoop on Food post. Please email me if you'd like to join in and keep in touch with me along the way.

Check out these 10 guilt-free apps for preschoolers. Then, find out if your little one is too sick for school by taking our quiz.

For more information, check out Kids & the Media by the American Psychological Association.

Image of baby boy with cell phone via Shutterstock.