Children’s Health: Is Media Consumption Actually Making Our Children Sick?

All children born today – or born in recent years – are so-called “digital natives”, whether they like it or not. So they grow up under the influence of digital media from the very beginning. This inevitably happens even if parents actually do everything they can to keep their children away from smartphones, tablets, TVs, and the like. After all, the TV is always on somewhere or the offspring are keeping a close eye on how their parents use their smartphones. So the greater the influence of digital media on children’s development, the faster the concern grows that they could have harmful (health) effects.

Every Child Is A “Digital Native”

Most parents will have heard of the term “digital natives”. However, probably only very few have already thought about the fact that their child is also one of these “digital natives”. The term stands for all people who have already come into contact with digital media in childhood and adolescence. They have grown up with them, so to speak, are adept at using them, and cannot really imagine life before the Internet age. Communicating with friends via messenger, surfing the Internet, social networks, rating portals and forums, software programs – all this and much more is part of everyday life for them as a matter of course.

On the one hand, this is a valuable skill, because companies need such “digital natives” in view of advancing digitization. On the other hand, we are critically examining the extent to which this influence has a positive or negative impact on the development of today’s children.

Do Media Make Children Sick?

The question that always comes up for parents is what the health consequences are for their children. So do they have to fear that digital media will have a negative impact on their children psychologically or physically?

There is no completely clear answer to this question. Admittedly, there is no evidence that media actually cause diseases such as diabetes or depression. However, the BLIKK media study of the RFH Cologne was able to prove that the use of media in childhood can promote various developmental disorders. Accordingly, a connection was observed between digital media use and various effects:

  • Disorders in language development.
  • An excessively high BMI, i.e. overweight, and too little exercise.
  • Reading/Spelling difficulties.
  • Concentration and attention deficits.
  • Motor hyperactivity.
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Excessive aggressiveness.

The earlier and the more a child comes into contact with digital media, the more likely it is that they will have negative effects on their development, which often lead to problems by school-age at the latest. Media do not make people ill in the strict sense, but they can lead to behavioral problems and an unhealthy lifestyle with too much sugary food/drinks and too little exercise.

In the long run, this can actually lead to serious secondary diseases – for example, depression, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and many more. Sleep disorders in childhood can also have a negative impact on development, as well as on the academic performance of those affected. And these are just a few of many examples of the negative consequences that can result from excessive media use in children.

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But: Media Skills Are Important

Excessive is an important keyword here because the results do not mean that digital media per se have a bad influence on children – make them sick, so to speak. Just because the TV is on in the background now and then or the child plays with the smartphone for two minutes, there is no reason for parents to panic.

On the contrary: in this day and age, it is quite important that in childhood. Otherwise, deficits may arise in relation to peers, which can become a disadvantage, especially in school and professional careers. That’s because these days, well-developed media skills are simply a prerequisite.

The study found that a lack of media skills on the part of parents often means that children do not learn these important skills (sufficiently). So how much media use is just right – and at what point is it too much?

Figures On Children’s Media Use

In fact, digital media now play a major role in children’s lives. For parents, it’s not always easy to gauge the right level or to control media use appropriately in the first place:

  • Among the participants in the BLIKK study, 75 percent of children between the ages of two and four already played with their smartphones for up to half an hour a day.
  • According to the 2018 KIM study, 74 percent of children watch TV every day.
  • Another 22 percent use the TV at least once or several times a week.
  • Likewise, 22 percent play with a PC every day and 42 percent use a smartphone daily.
  • Computers are used offline by 14 percent every day, while 27 percent surf the Internet.

How Long Should Children Use Media?

Parents are therefore often in a quandary: On the one hand, it is important that children learn appropriate skills for using digital media, and these can of course be used in a beneficial way – for example, for learning on a tablet. On the other hand, there is a risk of negative influences on the child’s development and possible secondary diseases. So if parents are now uncertain about how much media use is right, they should be guided by the official recommendations. These are as follows:

  • At the age of up to three, children should ideally not come into contact with screen media such as the TV, smartphone, tablet, or computer at all, or for a maximum of five minutes per day. On the other hand, reading and looking at picture books together is recommended from the age of about six months. Audio media such as music files or audiobooks can be used for about 30 minutes per day.
  • When they are between four and six years old, children may use various screen media, but together they should not exceed 20 to 30 minutes per day. Audio media can be used for around 45 minutes, while picture books and books are still recommended activities together with parents.
  • If they are already six to ten years old, children can and may read (picture) books themselves – or have them read to them by their parents. However, audio media should not be used for more than 60 minutes per day. For screen media, a maximum of 45 to 60 minutes per day is recommended.

To avoid sleep disturbances, screen media should be switched off at least one hour before bedtime. This is because the blue light of the displays can reduce the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. Parents should also bear in mind that every child is different.

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It is therefore important to monitor their own son or daughter and, if necessary, reduce media consumption if negative results occur despite adherence to the recommendations – for example, aggressiveness, hyperactivity or the child simply no longer feels like going out, meeting friends, or doing anything other than sitting in front of the media.

Do Not Underestimate The Risk Of Media Addiction

The latter are already typical signs of media addiction. This is a danger that is still underestimated by many parents. If children and young people come into contact with digital media too intensively, they can develop a real addiction problem. Alarm signals for media addiction are, for example:

  • Social withdrawal.
  • Neglect of obligations such as homework.
  • Drop in performance.
  • Cessation of hobbies.
  • Refusal to go to school.

If parents observe such or other alarm signals in their child and fear a media addiction, quick action is required. With timely and professional therapy, the problem can usually be completely eliminated in childhood and adolescence. At this point, parents also play an important role as role models. Because what is also often underestimated are the effects of their own media use on the development of their children.

Parents Must Be (Media) Role Models

Parenting always means questioning oneself and acting as a role model – that should be clear to all parents. Nevertheless, the smartphone is pulled out or the tablet is switched on without hesitation, even though the children are in the room. On the one hand, this deprives the children of their mother’s or father’s attention, which is extremely important, especially at a young age. On the other hand, they indirectly come into contact with digital media more than recommended.

The BLIKK study was able to determine groundbreaking results here as well: According to the study, babies and toddlers in the first year of life have more feeding and sleeping problems if their mothers use digital media such as smartphones during this time. Indirect contact also has a direct impact on children’s development and health. For parents, this means putting digital media aside whenever their children are around!

Control The Content Consumed

When it comes to the correct use of digital media by children and young people, it’s not just a question of how long they use them, but also of the content they consume. On the one hand, it is therefore important for parents to keep an eye on and regulate their own media use as well as that of their children. On the other hand, they also have the task of controlling what their offspring do or watch in the media.

Otherwise, children are at risk of coming into contact with unsuitable content, such as advertising, violence, or sex, on both television and the Internet. From an early age, they learn to change the channel or hop from website to website on the Internet. Parents should therefore not leave their children unsupervised when they are using digital media – at least not before they are around twelve years old.

Watching TV In A Child-Friendly Way…How Does It Work?

This age limit stems from the fact that children do not develop social responsibility until around twelve. Nevertheless, a television in one’s own room is necessarily advisable. So even in adolescence, it is important to keep at least a rough overview of how long a child uses digital media, which ones, and for what. Parents don’t have sit next front tv all time, but can confidently leave time – preferably within earshot, because then switchover will be noticed= quickly if worst comes worst. Younger children, on other hand, are often overwhelmed by tv. They jump wildly one channel or get too involved series. Here, therefore with them show the right way, speak. Both program content also discusses what has been consumed by children. Questions, explanations, discussions about help teach critical approaches, able classify correctly, learn to distinguish between truth fiction.

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Streaming As A Modern Alternative

However, many parents are happy when their children are just sitting contentedly in front of the TV and they can clean up the kitchen or hop in the shower in peace. That’s perfectly normal! Fortunately, nowadays they get support from modern technologies. Many TVs now offer the option of parental controls so that children can only watch formats that are suitable for them.

Alternatively, special streaming services can be a good choice. These are also available exclusively for children’s programming and can be played on any smart TV – or via a connection to a laptop or tablet. The prerequisite, however, is that the household has to ensure smooth streaming via the Internet connection. The various providers sometimes differ in terms of minimum requirements.

If the TV is secured in one way or another so that the children cannot consume the “wrong” content, the parents can confidently leave the room for a few minutes. Nevertheless, it is important to always keep one eye and one ear on the child watching TV, so to speak, and to switch off the set when the media time has elapsed.

Dangers Lurk On The Internet

Internet is an important keyword because even more dangers lurk here than on television. Internet-capable media that allow children to surf freely via a browser should therefore be protected in particular. Not only can come into contact with unsuitable content, but in the worst case, they also chat dangerous people or make serious mistakes that could result in credit cards and other sensitive data falling wrong hands. Dealing with advertising requires experience. Possibilities are many; so the television, a motto is: “Parents must supervise the child during use!”

Introduce Children To The Internet Slowly

A smartphone or tablet is, therefore, the worst possible toy for children, and they certainly don’t need their own device at an early age. However, keeping children away from the Internet altogether is not a good idea either. Sooner or later, they will inevitably come into contact with it, and if they are not properly prepared, they will fall into the many lurking traps.

Instead, it is up to parents to slowly introduce their children to the Internet, to inform them about possible dangers, and to teach them how to use the Internet safely. In this way, they learn the important media skills they need for their school and professional future – but also how to deal properly with the dangers on the Internet in order to avoid them or react to them appropriately.

How Can The Internet Be Used For Learning?

So for young children, there are two ways to use the Internet wisely: On the one hand, for the already mentioned child-friendly streaming, be it on the TV, the tablet, a smartphone, or even the laptop. On the other hand, special learning content can be accessed. In this way, fun is combined with usefulness, i.e. the child is allowed to use the digital media, acquires important skills, and at the same time learns new things or deepens its knowledge – for example in the area of reading or the correct naming of colors.

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There is a huge range of learning software available, and many of these are now e-learning courses that can be accessed directly online. This means there is no longer any need for traditional installation via CD, download, etc.

Internet Should Be Childproofed

Regardless of what the Internet is used for and on which device, parents should make it childproof before it gets into the hands of their children. There are various ways of doing this:

  • There are now special tablets and smartphones for children that only allow certain functions as well as the content. They, therefore, offer quite good protection against lurking dangers – but should never be used unsupervised.
  • But special security programs can also be installed on “normal” Internet-enabled devices. They act as a kind of filter to block content and advertising that is unsuitable for children.
  • With a little know-how, parents can also block special keywords – terms that the child is not allowed to search for. However, this is usually only sufficient at a young age, because children quickly learn to skilfully circumvent such blocks.
  • In general, older children or teenagers usually get the hang of circumventing special youth protection after a short time. Some providers, therefore, offer parents the option of concluding this directly. This means that it cannot be deactivated on the end device itself.
  • Finally, safety on the Internet is also a question of education. Clear rules are the be-all and end-all. Parents must set clear limits for their children, explain them, and monitor compliance. It is important to remain consistent and to enforce the discussed rules in every case – for example, the agreed media usage time.
  • Nevertheless, as we all know, control is better than trust, which is why parents should always monitor Internet use by children under the age of twelve. Older children can sometimes be left alone on the Internet, but here, too, special software or a look at the history helps to check afterward exactly what the son or daughter has done.

Parents should also carry out such regular checks when they give their children their first smartphone or other digital media. According to experts, this should happen at the earliest when the child is about twelve years old, but here, too, every child is different, so it’s up to the parents to find the right time. Of course, a teenager will no longer voluntarily hand over his or her cell phone to parents so that they can read its messages or check its history. But at least in the beginning, such checks are important to see whether the child is actually mature enough to handle the responsibility properly.

Finally, parents must ensure that all devices that children are not allowed to use (at the moment) are placed out of their reach. That way, they can’t access the Internet or switch on the TV in an unnoticed moment.

Images:
Image 1: Adobe Stock – Gorodenkoff / 167771585
Image 2: Adobe Stock – Africa Studio / 135759338
Image 3: Adobe Stock – Rido / 173016203
Image 4: Adobe Stock – Moodboard / 129880847
Image 5: Adobe Stock – Rawpixel.com / 81281936

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