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Electronic media is an integral part of the lives of youngsters in the twenty-first century. Television (TV) used to dominate the media world, but things have changed. Today, kids, and in fact all of us, are surrounded and influenced by cell phones, video games, computers, tablets, and more.

In view of the vast amount of electronic devices available today, consider this: kids commonly have all or most of them in their homes, and they often have one or more in their bedrooms.

Children, particularly adolescents, thus have almost constant access to media—often at times and in places with no adult supervision. Youngsters today spend more time using media than they do engaging in any single activity save sleeping. This poses the question of how these exposures to electronic media are affecting the lives of your young people, including even the youngest ones, the tots.

Electronic media and obesity

I find it significant that at the very time when the use of the various electronic media devices has become so widespread, obesity among young people has also increased. This doesn’t mean that these electronic media have actually caused obesity, but one can’t help but wonder if their use has played a part in the obesity crisis.

The first article in professional literature that linked obesity to the use of electronic media was published in 1985. It was a study showing that TV viewing among 12- to 17-year-old adolescents was related to increased body weight. It reported that the prevalence of obesity increased by 2 percent for each additional hour of TV that kids viewed.

Similar findings from another study conducted between 1988 and 1994 revealed that the prevalence of obesity was lowest among children who watched one hour or less of TV per day, and it was highest among those watching four or more hours of TV a day.

And the research on a possible link between obesity and video games shows a similar trend. A study published in the medical journal Pediatrics, conducted among 2,832 youngsters between 1 and 12 years of age, examined this relationship. In their conclusions, the researchers reported that they found a strong relationship between video gaming and the weight of the children who were studied. Their findings linking video gaming to obesity was strongest among youngsters eight years old and under.

Electronic media and sleep

A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 71 percent of 8- to 18-year-olds have a TV in their bedrooms. This is problematic because these kids spend an average of almost an hour more per day watching it than do kids without a TV in their bedrooms.

Several recent studies have documented that about one-third of children ages 6 and under have a TV in their bedrooms! And the statistics get even more alarming when we consider that parents report that nearly half of children under the age of two years watch TV every day, and one quarter have a TV in their bedroom. Seventy-four percent of all infants and toddlers have watched TV before the age of two.

These statistics are concerning when one considers that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the removal of TVs from children’s bedrooms and zero screen time for infants who are two and under. They also suggest that more interactive activities such as talking, playing, singing, and reading together be provided for these children, which will promote proper brain development.

Research also links electronic media use to the sleep patterns of children and young people. Lack of sleep and nightmares have been linked to TV viewing. Sleep disturbances have been linked to both the presence of a TV set in a child’s bedroom and to playing computer games.

A study out of Belgium of first through fourth-graders reported that just less than half of those studied reported being awakened during the night by a text message. The researchers concluded that cell phones in the bedroom may be having an impact on sleep among adolescents. It affected all age groups in their sample. The authors concluded that the threat to sleep from cell phones may be different than that from entertainment media, in that entertainment delays the time that a youngster may go to sleep while the cell phone in the bedroom interrupts sleep.

Another researcher stated that the TV-viewing habits that were most associated with sleep disturbances were a large amount of total TV viewing throughout the day as well as increased viewing of TV at bedtime, particularly when there is the presence of a TV in the bedroom.

Bedtime TV viewing tended to affect resistance to going to bed, a delay in the onset of sleep, and both of these were associated with anxiety around the time of sleep and decreased sleep duration.

Electronic media and aggressive behavior

A newsletter from the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that several studies support the relationship between a child’s exposure to violent media and an increased risk of exhibiting aggressive behaviors. The newsletter also noted that these relationships have been observed in children from preschool through adolescence. According to the researchers, the simple strategy of reducing the number of hours that children are exposed to such content will reduce their tendency to be aggressive.

It might seem plausible that there is a relationship between excessive exposure to electronic media and poor academic performance. And, indeed, a study done in 2008 describes such a finding.

On the positive side

However, we must remember that electronic media can have a beneficial effect as well. In writing this article, I have relied heavily upon the Internet to locate research materials to use for content and referencing. It is no doubt true that time spent on electronic devices will be distracting and take away from time that would be better spent studying or reading. The bottom line is that excessive electronic media use is generally not healthy or helpful and that violent and sexual content are disruptive in many ways.

The Media and Your Kids

by Gary Hopkins
From the August 2012 Signs