Time for a (media) diet

Maybe it was just coincidence, but it certainly was interesting that two major stories related to media influence made it onto the front pages and into local and national newscasts within days of each other last month.

Both stories highlighted the importance of media management and the impact media can have when it is not monitored properly. The reports are a stark reminder of how parents are still either too busy or too disconnected when it comes to media technology and their children.

On Oct. 28, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its revised policy statement calling for parents to take the issue seriously. Despite all the evidence showing how media saturation is connected to a long list of health issues for children — including sleep disorders, aggressive behavior and obesity — the organization says most kids have few rules when it comes to the media in the home and that has to change.

“A healthy approach to children’s media use should both minimize potential health risks and foster appropriate and positive media use — in other words, it should promote a healthy ‘media diet,’” said Marjorie Hogan, M.D., co-author of the AAP policy. Hogan added that family cooperation and collaboration are key to the success of a family media plan.

“Parents, educators and pediatricians should participate in media education, which means teaching children and adolescents how to make good choices in their media consumption.” 

The AAP says on average children ages 8 to 10 use media eight hours a day. For older children and teens, that number is about 11 hours a day. That’s pretty scary when you consider not only the amount of time, but the type of content they are most likely consuming. About 75 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have cell phones and nearly all teens send text messages.

Speaking of text messaging, that brings us to the other media-related story that should set off the alarm bells for parents. It happened in San Diego, where police are investigating several cases of sexting involving middle school and high school girls. Police say sexually explicit messages were sent from the girls to fellow students who then sent those messages to other classmates. Now investigators are looking at more than two dozen boys and girls who may have been involved in what could become a criminal case surrounding the manufacturing and distributing of child pornography.

San Diego police, along with the local Internet crimes task force, are sounding the same alarm as the AAP: It’s time for a serious media plan. Investigators say parents need to talk to their children about the dangers and long-term repercussions of sharing photos, not to mention other activities.

The AAP insists there should be media diets or curfews in the home to help children make healthier choices. How about no TV or cell phone usage during dinner? That would also encourage more face time between family members. How about no more than one or two hours of daily screen time for children under 2?

The issue is so serious that the AAP is advising its members to find out more about patients’ media habits and ask whether there is a TV and/or computer in the child’s bedroom. It also wants pediatricians to work with schools when it comes to media awareness.

Police, pediatricians and others concerned about media awareness are beginning to sound like broken records, or should we say broken CDs or iPods? How many studies do we need and how many troubled teens and technology stories do we have to read or see before we start to pay closer attention? 

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.