The facts: Kids spend more than 7.5 hours a day with media, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation
• A 2011 study in the journal Pediatrics suggests that watching fast-paced cartoons can have an immediate negative impact on kids' ability to plan and think ahead.
• Also according to Pediatrics, excessive television exposure in the preschool years leads to diminished school performance
• Kids who watch more television than their peers during the middle and high school years have less healthy diets five years later, according to a 2009 study by the University of Minnesota
• Girls with a heavy sexual media diet engage in sexual activity younger than their peers, according to a 2007 poll by Harris Interactive
• Children who watch between two and four hours of television a day are two-and-a-half times more likely to have high blood pressure, according to a 2007 study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine
What's a healthy media diet?
Here's a sobering fact: Average American children now spend more time with media and technology (almost eight hours a day!) than they do with their parents or in school. With television, computers, video games, smartphones, MP3 players, and other devices vying for kids' attention, raising them with a balanced media diet has never been more challenging. But it's an essential part of parenting in the digital age.
A healthy media diet means balancing three things: What kids do, how much time they spend doing it, and making age-appropriate content choices. Now that kids interact with media through personal technologies that increasingly put them in charge of selecting their own entertainment, it's never been more important to maintain oversight.
Learning how to have a balanced diet is a critical life skill we have to teach our kids –- as important as eating right, learning to swim, or driving a car. Fortunately, because there are so many choices now, it's gotten easier to find healthy ways to say yes.
Why does it matter?
Media and technology run right through the center of our kids' lives. And what kids see and do profoundly impacts their emotional, physical, and social development. Media acts as a super-peer for kids, giving them a sense of what's normal, desirable, or cool. But the messages in media may not be what you and your family value, so if you don't get involved and help kids learn to think critically about role models, activities, and media content, then they're absorbing things unquestionably that you might want them to question.
In addition, since media and technology have become the way that kids socialize and communicate, we have to help them learn what is and isn't responsible behavior. Kids need to be able to balance the potential in online or mobile communication with the wisdom they need to use these powerful tools in ways that don't hurt others or become addictive.
How to give your kids a healthy media diet
With so many new programs and technology coming out all the time -- many of which are aimed at kids -- it's hard to tell what's good, what's age-appropriate, and what has the "nutritional value" to entertain -- and hopefully educate -- your kids.
But by keeping three simple rules in mind, you can help serve your kids a healthy media diet. Here's how:
Use media together. Whenever you can, watch, play, and listen with your kids. Talk about the content. When you can't be there, ask them about the media they've used. Help kids question and analyze media messages. Share your own values. Let them know how you feel about solving problems with violence, stereotyping people, selling products using sex or cartoon characters, or advertising to kids in schools or movie theaters. Help kids connect what they learn in the media to events and other activities in which they're involved -- like playing sports and creating art -- in order to broaden their understanding of the world.
Be a role model. When kids are around, set an example by using media the way you want them to use it. Don't bring your phone to the dinner table, and turn the television off when it's not actively being watched. Record shows that may be inappropriate for your kids to watch -- even the news -- and watch them later, when kids aren't around.
Keep an eye on the clock. Keep an eye on how long kids spend online, in front of the television, watching movies, playing video games. The secret to healthy media use is to establish time limits and stick to them -- before your kids turn on and tune in.