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  • Writer's pictureRestoring Balance

Children and Electronic Media: How Much is Too Much?

"Last month the American Psychological Association published an article describing how youth is using different forms of media and its effects.

I have the opportunity to work with many kids who come in for neurofeedback because they have difficulties concentrating, sleeping or are struggling academically. I always talk to parents about the need for balance in their lives and having time to play outside as well as being able to sit quietly and read or enjoy other activities.

I certainly understand the need to "disconnect" by connecting to television, video games or other media, but it is extremely important that we are connecting with one another, building relationships and allowing our brains to experience other types of stimuli."

Betsabé Rubio LMFT, LPC

As parents and professionals, we know that these days our children are highly exposed to screens and increasingly using different types of electronic media, often simultaneously. Children have even been called “Generation M” for media.

So, what are the facts about children’s exposure to screen media? What’s the impact? What can we do?

The Kaiser Family Foundation has been one of the important sources of information about children and media through well-funded and well-designed studies addressing variables such as age, race, socioeconomic status and parental educational level, among others. These widely disseminated and referenced studies provide information on which media children use, time spent, availability of media outlets in the home, etc.

Children’s Use of Media is Increasing: Facts

First, let’s review the facts based on the Kaiser Foundation’s latest report of 2010 for children 8-18 years of age.

Which media are children consuming these days?

Children’s consumption of electronic media is increasing, resulting in large part from technological transformations, easy access to and ownership of mobile devices, especially cell phones and popular activities like social networking. According to Kaiser’s most recent report (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010) 20 percent of media consumption comes from mobile devices.

How has media consumption changed over time for children 8-18 years old?

If as this 2010 report indicates children spend on average 7:38 hours a day on media (or more than 53 hours a week), 6 to 7 hours in school and 7 to 8 hours sleeping, how much is left for family interactions? And two-thirds of the children said that in their homes, TV is usually on during meals.

How many children own their own cellphone?

Kaiser’s report indicated that 66 percent of children, 8-18 years old had their own cell phone, up from 39 percent in 2004. And cellphones now are not only to communicate with others but are a way to consume more media. Just on their cell phones, kids spend an average of 33 minutes talking and 49 minutes on media (music, games, TV) per day, not including time spent on text messaging and social media.

What about online media at home?

Access to home Internet went from 74 percent in 2004 to 84 percent in 2009 among young people; those with laptops went from 12 percent to 20 percent; Internet access in the bedroom went from 20 percent to 33 percent, and computers in the bedroom went from 21 percent to 36 percent. If we put together the expansion of high-speed home Internet access, availability of TV content online and the explosion of social media and YouTube, we see why there is an increase in the amount and type of media children are consuming every day.

Do parents have rules for their children’s use of media?

According to the Kaiser Foundation’s 2010 report, “only three in ten young children say they have rules about how much time they can spend watching TV (28 percent), playing video games (30 percent), and 36 percent say it about using the computer.” In general, parents are more likely to establish rules about what to watch and play than about amount of time spent in the activity.

Are data the same for children from different races and ethnic groups?

Children’s use of media (all types) varies substantially according to race and ethnicity. Black and Hispanic children consume nearly 4 1/2 hours more media daily than white children: 13 hours for Latino children, 12:59 hours for black children and 8:36 hours for white children, although white children are more likely to have access to a computer at home. But the digital divide is narrowing: 94 percent of white children, 89 percent of black children and 92 percent of Latino children have access to a computer at home. In terms of access to the internet (dial-up or high speed) at home, 88 percent of white children, 78 percent of black children and 74 percent of Latino children have access.

Additional findings from Kaiser Foundation report

What else does Kaiser’s 2010 report tell us?

  • Reading of books remained the same from 1999 to 2009 at 25 minutes/day.

  • Girls spend more time using social media, reading and listening than boys; boys spend more time on video games, computer games and YouTube. Boys consume more media overall than girls.

  • Time spent with media varies by age, with a dramatic increase for the 11-14 year-old group.

  • Black and Hispanic children consume more than whites. According to a Pew Research Center report (2015), 24 percent of teens (13-17 years old) go online “almost constantly” using smartphones and 56 percent go online several times a day.

Media Exposure Has Substantial Impact on Children

  • According to a review of 173 studies (Media + Child and Adolescent Health, 2008) arranged by Common Sense Media and the Department of Clinical Bioethics at the NIH, researchers from the Yale University School of Medicine, NIH and California Pacific Medical Center identified “statistically significant associations” between greater media exposure with negative health outcomes such as obesity, tobacco use, sexual behavior, drug and alcohol use, and low academic achievement.

  • Heavy media users report getting lower grades in school. A cause and effect relationship has not been demonstrated, but 47 percent of heavy users say they have mostly grades Cs or lower lower (Rideout et al., 2010).

  • The increase in use of electronic media is exposing children to electronic aggression, or harassment or bullying that occurs through email, chat room and social media. Because it is a fairly new topic, there are few studies focusing on electronic aggression but they indicate that 9-35 percent of young people say they have been victims (Hertz & David-Ferdon, 2008).

  • Screen-time can be habit-forming: The more children are exposed to screens, the harder it will be to turn screens off when they are older (Christakis & Simmerman, 2006).

  • More time preschool children spend on screens is less time in the real world, for creative play, creativity, face-to-face social interactions, physical activities and time interacting with parents and caregivers.

  • Screen time might impact sleep by fostering irregular bedtimes. In addition it is too exciting especially at bedtime, and exposure to light can alter melatonin secretion (Higuchi et al., 2003; Thompson & Christakis, 2005).

How can parents limit children’s exposure to media and prevent negative impact?

  • Follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of no screen time for children under the age of 2.

  • Keep TV, computer and other electronic media out of the bedroom so you can monitor.

  • Don’t leave TV on as a background sound.

  • Don’t eat in front of the TV — rather make meals an opportunity for interaction.

  • Unplug: Have screen-free days and do something else.

  • Plan what children can watch and play with, and share your rules with them.

  • Watch TV with and talk to children about images, messages and content.

  • Limit the amount of time kids can use media and monitor it.

  • Do different things with kids, things appropriate to their ages.

  • Talk about media with other parents to learn from their experiences.


If you are a parent or caregiver and need help with media exposure and other issues related to child rearing, we can help you. Learn about APA’s ACT Raising Safe Kids Program and sign up for classes offered in communities all over the U.S. and in Puerto Rico.

If you are a professional and work with parents and caregivers join the ACT Raising Safe Kids Program and become an ACT Facilitator prepared to conduct the program in your community.

For more information about the ACT Raising Safe Kids Program, visit the website.


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