Texting, surfing the Web, and playing video games before bed could lead to attention and learning problems, anxiety, mood swings, and even depression, suggests a pilot study conducted at the Sleep Disorders Center at JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey. Researchers surveyed 40 children—average age: 14 1/2—all of whom were treated at the center for sleep problems, USA Today reports. The kids reported sending an average of 34 text messages or E-mails each night, and said they sent the texts between 10 minutes and four hours after parents said “lights out!” Texts or calls also awoke the kids an average of once a night. “These activities are not sleep-promoting, like reading a novel or listening to music,” study author Peter Polos, a physician at the JFK center, told HealthDay. “They stimulate the brain and depress normal sleep cycles.” Roughly half of the children’s parents didn’t know their kids were cuddling up to their favorite media; others knew, but thought, “This is the world we live in, what can you do?” Polos said.
While electronic media use can be harmful to children, its influence on kids isn’t all bad, U.S. News contributor Nancy Shute reports. There are extraordinary things to see and share, and parents who make wise media choices for their family are also teaching their children to be savvy media consumers.
Here are three ways your family can gain when the media diet is healthful:
1. Through meaningful storytelling. Quality media can help teach essential human values through storytelling, a powerful learning tool
. A great movie or TV show (think Up or Sesame Street) can provide your children lasting lessons on growing up to be good, kind, and wise. Check out sites like KidsFirst and Common Sense Media for reviews of movies and video games.
2. By gaining advertisement literacy. Children younger than age 8 have difficulty understanding that advertisements are designed to persuade them, but older children can become savvy consumers by learning how media are used to manipulate thoughts and emotions. The United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia require that children be taught “media literacy,” and research has shown that it may help mitigate the harmful effects of media.
3. To inspire talks about difficult issues. Watching TV or playing computer games with your children not only helps you understand their interests but provides a great opportunity for teaching your own values. Victor Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico, says he watches Lost and other TV shows with his 17-year-old daughter. “A character on TV is having sex with his girlfriend. It’s easy to say, ‘What do you think about that?’ rather than say, ‘Are you having sex?’ It’s a really powerful way of communicating with your teenagers,” he says.
So the good news for parents is that we do have choices: There are healthful ways for children to use media, and we can exert control over what they watch and for how long. We’re in the midst of a massive experiment, and it’s up to us to create a sensible balance between media and the other essentials of life.