When it comes to kids and television time, there's no shortage of debate. Experts do agree there are no easy answers as to how much is too much and what impact it can have. Plus, the answers they do have don't fit every child.
Dr. Taylor Porter, a psychiatrist at Stormont-Vail West, says it depends upon the context they are viewing it in and what they view. He says violent or sexual images should be most concerning for a child considered vulnerable, either because he or she is younger or in an at-risk environment with little adult supervision. However, he says even stable children can be affected if they see too much. "What you load in your brain is what sticks in your brain," he says.
That's why Porter suggests parents follow the ratings systems on movies, television shows and video games. Also, experts recommend kids get no more than two hours of total screen time a day, which includes television, movies, video games and surfing the Internet combined.
It's not just a mental issue. Physically, many experts believe that time sitting in front of screens is contributing to a rise in childhood obesity. Porter says getting moving does more than just burn calories. He says, while certain fine motor skills are developed with video games, he also indicates gross motor skills and skills like learning to get along with others are developed through getting outdoors and running and playing.
Parental supervision is key, both limiting time spent sitting, and monitoring what's watched. Even then, how do you react when you're watching with your child and an adult comment or situation gets by? Porter says don't overreact yourself. He says watch and take your cues from your children's reactions. He says if they look uncomfortable or confused, it's a good chance to take that opportunity to have a conversation with them. He says it doesn't have to be the most serious conversation, but at least say, "That was something else," then let them ask questions and go from there.
The Federal Communications Commission is looking into this issue, as well. Its chairman worked with Kansas Senator Sam Brownback to form a task force studying the impact of media and advertising on children's health.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has information about various kids and media issues on its Website, which can be found here: www.aap.org/healthtopics/mediause.cfm .