As parents, we make decisions every minute of the day — some based on things we really know. Others assumptions turn out to be based on things we have heard or believe. It’s the latter assumptions that cause us the most problems. In today’s media-centered world people make interesting decisions about the access their children have to television and computers, some of them based on what is known and some not.
Most people know about the need to limit television, understanding that too much TV viewing can lead to quality of life and health issues. The document, Setting Limits of Screen Time, posted at the Center for Media and Child Health (CMCH), provides ideas and suggestions with links to some of the published research about children and television viewing.
Many parents are less certain about how much access a child should have to networked computers and mobile phones. We worry about disconnecting a child, concerned that a son or daughter might be losing out on valuable access to information, not to mention friends. These assumptions lead many parents to set up a connected computer in a child’s bedroom and give a child a mobile phone, essentially a mini computer connected to the world.
While much peer-reviewed research on children and TV viewing is available, longitudinal studies on the internet and mobile communication are not yet as plentiful. Thus parents and teachers are left with preliminary research results and anecdotal evidence associating behaviors and health problems with too much media access.
It’s my view that computers do not belong in a child’s bedroom. Nor do TVs, DVD players, cell phones, or other media. Yet according to a recently published Kaiser Family Foundation report, Gen M2: Media in the Lives of 8 – 18 Year Olds, they are all over kids’ bedrooms:
- 71% of kids report having a TV
- 57% say they have a DVD or VCR player
- 36% have a computer
The more media that resides in a child’s room, the more a child tries to multi-task during homework sessions (not possible). Moreover, these media have a way of calling out, like those seductive Sirens of Greek mythology, during hours when want a child to sleep — a health issue that is often not recognized until a child begins to have school problems. Like it or not, a huge amount of risky media behavior occurs in a child’s bedroom.
Digital citizenship is all about learning when and how to use media appropriately, but more importantly when to disconnect for a while and do other things. Most parents, even those who have warm and fuzzy connections with their Blackberries, ultimately know when to stop and disconnect for a while. Interestingly, in the Kaiser research survey, 44 percent of the student respondents reported that no rules about cell phone use governed their homes.
Children will not know how to set limits for themselves unless we model this behavior, set limits, and teach them how to do it for themselves.