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Beyond the Screen: How to Help Students Limit Media Consumption

Laura E. Saponara serves as a Senior Communications Consultant for Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit.

Screens are just parts of machines, and machines are integral to our lives.  Screens can offer a kaleidoscope of culture, deliver high quality curriculum and incite creativity.

Depending on your age, the center screen of your childhood may have allowed your growing mind to glimpse the best of 20th century cinema.  Your screen may have been your after school companion, offering sitcoms now indelibly etched.  Or, it may have been your lifeline to Pokemon, Guitar Hero or World of Warcraft.

But as we all know, the children in our lives experience the allure and the omnipresence of screens in ways that differ from prior generations.  And they are more vulnerable to a severe set of harms.

Research now confirms that children who are allowed to let screens colonize their minds for long periods of time are more likely to be obese. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges pediatricians to ask parents at every visit, “How much entertainment media per day is your child watching?”

One scary new study has concluded that excessive screen time may inhibit a child’s ability to recognize human emotion.

Kids now spend more than seven hours per day on average using televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices for entertainment. This sedentary state of affairs is hardly inevitable.  Parents can make a real difference by following doctors’ recommendations to set limits and stand their ground, and to remove TV sets from children’s bedrooms.  Parental supervision and control over screen time also appears to lessen the negative impacts.

Though schools may not have primary responsibility for helping students gain distance from their screens, there is a great deal educators can do to teach students about the dangers of inactivity, including higher cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes and gall bladder disease.

Schools can also raise students’ awareness by helping them monitor their media consumption. The wise, resourceful folks at Let’s Move urge teachers and parents to collaborate in helping kids to log screen time versus active time. They’ve created a web page with helpful tips to make this exercise easy.

Of course, schools can do a tremendous amount to turn the tide by integrating quality physical activity throughout the day, before, during and after school. Everything counts, including 5-minute increments.

In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) attempted set out to grab parents’ attention with a newspaper “advertorial” that carried the message “Interrupt your child’s regularly scheduled programming to give them a healthier start in life.”  Parents were also advised, “Consider setting an example for your kids by watching less television yourself.”

As parents, educators and adult role models, the CDC’s advice reminds us of our critical role in setting patterns that are likely to stick with our children. Screens will always beckon.  We all have to work together to make sure we’re mindful of what children truly need, including to get connected to the natural, physical and fantasy worlds beyond our devices.

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