I have long felt that in the Information Age, media are like the air we breath and the water we drink – necessary for life, but sometimes toxic and often unhealthy. Browsing this morning, I found this group: The Center for Media and Child Health (CMCH).
At Children’s Hospital Boston, the Harvard Medical School, and the Harvard School of Public Health, this group is dedicated to understanding and responding to the effects of media on the physical, mental, and social health of children through research, translation, and education.
They have found that young people spend more time using media—TV, movies, music, computers, Internet, cell phones, magazines, and video games—than engaging in any other single activity except sleep. Their site is a treasure trove of scientific research related to these topics.
According to the Center for Media and Child Health:
The media that children use and create are integral to their growing sense of themselves, of the world, and of how they should interact with it. These pervasive, persuasive influences have been linked to both negative health outcomes, such as smoking, obesity, sexual risk behaviors, eating disorders and poor body image, anxiety, and violence, and to positive outcomes, such as civil participation, positive social behavior, tolerance, school readiness, knowledge acquisition, and positive self-image. For any given child, which effects occur depends largely on the media’s content, the child’s age, the context in which the child uses media, the amount of media the child uses, and whether that use is active and critical.”
To create positive rather than negative outcomes, they propose five Five Cs, which I summarize below:
- Control time
Limit media use to an amount appropriate for your child’s age.
- Filter Content
All media educate. Some teach healthy lessons, others harmful.
- Influence Context.
Where, when, how, why, and with whom kids use media can enrich or harm them.
- Teach Critical thinking
It’s essential for healthy development.
- Create media mastery
Show kids how to think about media they use, instead of passively consuming it.
To kids, media represent a way to explore the world, stay connected, share experiences, identify with groups, and show off. They’re a badge of belonging. They’re a gateway to information, entertainment and temptation.
Research shows that kids consume up to seven hours per day of media (ten and a half hours if you factor in multitasking). Nothing will influence the type of adults that kids become more than you and the media they consume. The wise parent will teach kids to use media time wisely. I read that in a fortune cookie, so I know it must be true.