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Pediatricians who simply say, 'turn the TV off' are out of touch, doctor says

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Television, along with video games and other electronic media are usually singled out as the major villains in child development. TV shows are too fast-paced, broadcast inappropriate messages and make children too hyper and frustrated, are the same arguments phrased over and over again. Pediatrician Dr. Claire McCarthy now suggests that media is so pervasive; parents are probably better off letting their children watch programs and media that has a positive effect.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Our messaging is pretty straightforward: turn it off. The recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics is that children under the age of 2 should not watch TV at all, and everyone else should watch no more than two hours a day," Dr. McCarthy writes in a recent column.

There are the usual arguments. "Kids who watch a lot of media are more likely to be overweight. Violent programming and games can lead to aggressive behavior, and watching media involving sex can make kids more likely to start having sex earlier."

McCarthy recognizes that parents aren't following this advice. The TV set is ongoing in most households and parents who unwind with their sitcoms, soap operas and sporting events aren't setting a very good example for their kids.

"The reality is that screens are increasingly part of life. TV is part of life--for most kids, it's either on in front of them or in the background for many more hours than we recommend. Video games are part of life, too --and I find that lots of parents don't even think about them as screen time. The Internet has made media always available and integrated into our days in ways we sometimes don't even realize."

McCarthy suggests an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach. She notes the work of Dr. Dmitri Christakis from Seattle, who with researchers discussed about how much TV, and other media their kids watched and the kind of media they should and shouldn't watch.

Christakis and his colleagues encouraged shows that modeled good behavior, like "Dora the Explorer" and "Sesame Street." 

"You know what happened? Not only did the kids watch more shows that were appropriate for them, their social behavior improved. As Christakis wrote in the study, 'Although television is frequently implicated as a cause of many problems in children, our research indicates that it may also be part of the solution.'"

"I think lots of parents not only don't understand how different kinds of media content affect their kids, but are also really open to ideas about what kinds of media are better for their kids -- and might even help them," McCarthy adds.

Overall, parents should take an active interest in what their children are watching and how it benefits them - a definite "win-win" situation.

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