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Kids' Overuse of Media Now Seen as #1 Health Concern for Parents

Kids now spend more time in the electronic media world today than they're spending at school or with their parents. So who's really influencing their physical, social, and emotional development?
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Media beats out school problems, alcohol and smoking.

Kids now spend more time in the electronic media world today than they're spending at school or with their parents. So who's really influencing their physical, social, and emotional development?

In a new national survey conducted here at Common Sense Media last month, most parents said their number-one health concern for their kids, age five to sixteen, is media overexposure and overuse. Small wonder, as media is a full-time job for the average kid, consuming 44.5 hours a week of their time, attention and imagination--and teens now spend 72 hours a week immersed in the media universe.

And it's getting more complex. In an increasingly portable and convergent world, it's how kids communicate, learn, relax and express themselves. Media access is also changing at warp speed. As media devices become more portable and powerful, kids become increasingly and intimately wired into the media world. Cell phones, Sidekicks, Blackberries, and Treos all offer immediate access to the Internet, instantly connecting kids to each other and to content that may or may not be age-appropriate.

Because kids access media intimately, directly, and often without adult supervision, the images and messages they receive, 24/7, profoundly shape their physical, mental and social development in ways that can be healthy or unhealthy. Ads for junk food, clothing, alcohol and cigarettes saturate the media. Violent and aggressive behavior shows up everywhere, from cop shows to T-rated video games. And whether it's a sexy music video, a rapper hawking champagne or a TV star's scrawny physique, media is a "super-peer," influencing kids and teaching them that what they see on the screen is "real" or "normal" or "okay."

We're realizing that what kids put in their brains is as important as what they put in their bodies. Media needs to be recognized as a public health issue when it comes to kids.

But there is good news. A serious conversation is finally starting to take place among parents, health professionals, educators, policymakers and media executives about the health of the new media-saturated generation. In the "Beyond Primetime" conference, held this week in New York on February 5 and 6, CEOs of major media companies, academics and health experts are coming together to explore, for the first time, the challenge of keeping kids mentally and physically healthy in a 24/7 media environment.

It's time for an honest, open discussion of these issues that are profoundly affecting kids and families--and for solutions. It's also time to acknowledge that we are all responsible for responsible media. As former Federal Communications Chairman Newton Minow put it in his legendary "Vast Wasteland" speech 45 years ago, is there anyone around who believes that we can't do better?