National Emergency Medicine Assoc. (NEMA)
"THE HEART OF THE MATTER"
Guest: Dr. Timothy Doran, Pediatric physician, Flagship Health Care, Assoc. Prof. of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore
Topic: Kids watching too much TV
Host/Producer: Steve Girard
NEMA: Hey, the new fall TV shows have kicked off, along with the new kids Saturday morning and after school programs. The weather is getting colder over most of the U.S., and that means kids are indoors more, watching more television. Is that happening in your family...your kids, your grandkids spending a lot of time in front of the tube? Youre not alone...not even close. Today, wed like to talk about TV and your kids health, physical, emotional, and social. Our guest is Dr. Tim Doran, a pediatric physician with Flagship Health Care, and associate professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Doctor Doran...being one parent of a two working-parent family, Ive felt it...trying to make the kids more self-sufficient...but we try to get them to depend on TV to occupy their time...using the box as a babysitter, so we can get more done around the house, and things like that. Two parents working has to be a major cause of kids watching more TV...
DORAN: Yeah, absolutely. Its clear that television is used as a babysitting device, and our recommendation to parents is to stop. Our recommendation is that they should watch probably no more than two hours...and preferably no more than one hour of television per day, and that parents find other alternatives for babysitting other than just sitting their children in front of the TV. I think most parents would be shocked if they really sat down and spent that time to understand, in fact, what the children are watching during those babysitting hours, and I think they would not be pleased with the content of much of what children are watching during those times.
NEMA: I know theres a lot of violence in adult TV shows, kids shows...even cartoons seem to be more violent...
DORAN: Study after study has shown the linkage between the amount of violence that children watch, and the amount of violence that were seeing in society. Children watch, on average, as much as 4 hours a day of television, and thats time that theyre spending in front of the TV that theyre not spending on other activities: physical exercise, reading...other pursuits...even listening to the radio, that would be more beneficial for them that sitting and watching TV. The average kindergarten student (repeats) will have watched on average 5 thousand hours of TV by the time they hit kindergarten. And that actually is more time than he or she will spend in an elementary school classroom. So, its just an enormous amount of time that is filled with content that we feel is inappropriate for children, and is certainly, in terms of the volume...way too much.
I think one of the other areas that kind of boggles the mind is that by the time a kid reaches the 6th grade, he will have witnessed at least 8 thousand murders, and over 100 thousand other acts of violence on TV. Another astonishing figure. And to reiterate, its crystal clear that the violence on TV does get transmitted, and those messages do get transmitted to children, and if we really want to decrease the amount of violence in society, we really need to address the violence on TV...and other media.
NEMA: In your pediatric practice...have you had parents talk about behaviors in their kids that you might relate to their exposure to that kind of violence?
DORAN: Well, certainly we see a lot of aggression in terms of resolving conflicts... and although its hard, as I said, on an individual basis to correlate that with TV watching...I certainly think that the recommendation to limit TV will have nothing but beneficial effects.
NEMA: I know you feel a big point in all this is for parents to really be aware of what their children are watching, and to watch along with them to establish a base of choices, and to be aware when the kids start veering off in content and volume....
DORAN: The other point is for parents to really be aware of what children are watching, and to participate in that viewing. Certainly, when a parent will sit down and watch a show with a child, and if there are controversial topics that come up during that show, they can explain those issues and they can use it as an opportunity for teaching, and teaching values especially. So, that if there is some TV watching, that the parents really be informed and tuned in, literally, to what the children are watching. And finally, we would strongly urge parents not to allow children to have TVs in their own room. We also strongly advise parents not to allow TV watching during mealtime, which should really be a sacrosanct period of time for the family.
NEMA: As a pediatrician, are parents asking about televisions effects on their kids?
DORAN: I think theres more of an awareness now, especially lately with the rating systems that have come into being. And although I think theyre an important first step in helping parents guide their children to more responsible viewing, I think theres still a problem with the volume of television their children are watching. Most parents are not asking about limiting TV as much as wed like to see, and in fact thats something we have been advocating to parents as pediatricians: that one of the important parts, in terms of their childrens overall health and well being, is to limit the time in front of the TV.
NEMA: Are TV watching habits something you can easily correlate to a childs health...I mean when you see a child who is overweight, do you ask about the familys TV watching habits?
DORAN: It is a question that we ask in terms of increasing their physical exercise, because obviously, the more time in front of the TV, the fewer hours theyre out running or biking or doing other activities. So, as part of our health maintenance visits, that we see young teenagers...that is one of the things we stress is that they get out and spend time exercising and that means decreasing the amount of time that theyre a couch potato.
NEMA: Do parents ask you during these visits, "What should we do to make this happen"?
DORAN: I havent had that specifically asked of me...in that format. But parents want to know about healthy lifestyles, and as part of a discussion about healthy lifestyles, part of what we do talk about is limiting TV and increasing the amount of physical activity. We know in this country that children and teenagers as well, do not participate as actively as they should be for their health in physical activity. So it is something that we stress...the need to increase the amount of exercise that American children participate in.
NEMA: I notice that pediatricians start talking to families about TV when a child is about 3 years old...
DORAN: The studies would show that by the age of 8, most children are watching about 4 hours of TV a day. But we really would recommend, the American Academy of Pediatrics for instance, would recommend that we mention TV at even earlier ages, since by the time, as I said, by the time they reach kindergarten, the average student will have watched about 5 thousand hours of TV. So it really is important that we set the tone early, and re-stress that at periodic intervals, in order to reinforce with parents the need to limit the amount of TV that their children are watching. Just in terms of nutrition...if you look at Saturday morning television, 9 out of 10 food ads are for sugary cereals or candy bars, or salty canned foods...or other foods that are really nutritionally flawed. So, even the commercial content of what the average child sees are really detrimental to their best interest in their better health. Again, the average child will probably see more than 20 thousand TV commercials in one year.
NEMA: What are some of the things that parents can do...maybe a checklist...to intervene in their kids already established viewing habits?
DORAN: Well, certainly we know...again from the medical literature...that the amount of exercise children do is closely correlated with parental activity. So therefore, if parents exercise regularly, the children generally will do so as well. So, one of the beneficial pieces of advice to parents is that they should be out starting to exercise...and if theyre not exercising...well, they should be exercising, and bring their children along. Whether its biking or walking or running or swimming in the Summer - really anything to get the children outside. And its really parents setting the example. If theyre home watching TV as a couch potato, then the children will mimic that activity. And if theyre out exercising, they will mimic that more beneficial activity.
NEMA: Our thanks to Dr. Tim Doran of Flagship Health Care and Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore.
SPOT: Small pages....big advice on parenting...from infants to teens. What to expect, emotionally and physically, as your child grows. How to develop positive discipline,how to deal with kids and TV, adolescent issues, drug education, fighting, single and step parenting...its all in the Little Book of Parenting, available through the National Emergency Medicine Association. Call 1-800-332-6362 for more information.
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