Television's Good Points Can Be Easily Outweighed

Article excerpt

Byline: Birth To Three by Carl Bybee For The Register-Guard

WHEN most parents hear their child's medical doctor recommend that children younger than 2 should watch no television, they may be surprised, if not shocked.

They might also be surprised when the same doctor recommends that children's bedrooms should be "electronic-free zones" - no televisions, VCRs, computers or video games. After all, what does TV have to do with doctors and with children's health?

Most parents have a love/hate relationship with television, computers, video games and VCRs. They enjoy relaxing after a hard day by watching a favorite program, and they put their children in front of computers to give the children a chance to become computer-literate and learn about the world even as they play. While making dinner or enjoying a few moments to themselves, parents also welcome moments when the television or the computer serves as a kind of electronic baby-sitter that keeps the children busy and quiet for a few minutes.

Doesn't the American Academy of Pediatrics, representing nearly 60,000 pediatricians across the nation and making their recommendations about "Media Matters," know about these everyday facts of family life? Well, no and yes.

Doctors and media educators are thinking about children's health in broader terms to include the connections between health, attitudes and the media environment. Attention is turning to preventing tobacco, alcohol and drug use; preventing aggression and violence; understanding the growing social pressure on youths to have sex at an earlier age; challenging the increasing sexualization of images of children and teens; and on preventing the explosion of obesity and poor nutrition habits of children.

As doctors, public health officials and media educators begin to explore these problems, it is hard not to take seriously the media connection to these problems.

Some of the connections between children's physical and mental health are hinted at by statistics. The average child now spends almost four hours a day with television. This means that over the course of a year, children will spend almost 60 percent more time watching television than they spend in school.

And what do they see? They see between 20,000 and 40,000 commercials a year. …