We’ve heard about the connections between sedentary activity, excessive screen time use, and childhood obesity. Research shows us a relationship between screen time use and overweight, although the reasons for these connections are many including exposure to unhealthy food products in advertising, mindless and excessive overeating while viewing screens, and consequences of sedentary behaviors associated with screen use. Moreover, television viewing has been associated with decreased time spent doing homework and engaging in creative play. However, research does not support the widespread belief that television viewing displaces time spent reading or time spent in active play.
In fact, there are times when television and screen time use benefit children, and not just educational television either. There is a time and place for everything, and a firefighter showed us this during an emergency situation involving children. On September 5, 2015, in D’iberville, Mississippi, a car full of children flipped over and over and at least 5 children were thrown from the car. During the rescue efforts, a firefighter used his own cell phone to show a child victim a video of a movie, “Happy Feet,” to keep the child calm during a stressful and anxious time. This reminded me of the research that shows a lower resting heart rate while watching television and all the times I’ve been given “Mommy advice” to stay how, cuddle, and watch a movie when my child is sick. There are times with a lower resting heart rate is actually a good thing, and this firefighter knew it. He may not have known this research, but he certainly knew how to soothe this child during a time of crisis that was appropriate for the situation – the mobile device and it’s content kept the child from moving around which could cause more injury, gave the child something familiar in an unfamiliar situation, and assisted in distracting the child from the pain and suffering he was experiencing and witnessed during a time of crisis.
So let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water and block or abandon all media content or media use with children. Media can serve a purpose for children in their lives. Whether it be an educational video to support learning, or an entertaining movie to keep clam during a crisis, let’s use media in a positive way with our children. Let’s find the times, places, and content that works best for our children and keeps them out of harms way. For some, that may mean putting away the device to get the homework done. For others, that may mean letting them play a video game to keep them occupied during a chemotherapy treatment. Let’s be mindful of media use and raise our kids to be mindful media users, too.
To learn more:
Jordan, A. B., Kramer-Golinkoff, E. K., & Strasburger, V. C. (2008). Does adolescent media use cause obesity and eating disorders. Adolesc Med State Art Rev, 19(3), 431-449.
Vandewater, E. A., Bickham, D. S., & Lee, J. H. (2006). Time well spent? Relating television use to children’s free-time activities. Pediatrics, 117(2), e181-e191.
Vandewater, E. A., Shim, M. S., & Caplovitz, A. G. (2004). Linking obesity and activity level with children’s television and video game use. Journal of adolescence, 27(1), 71-85.