children mediaA Fargo, North Dakota woman made headlines this past Halloween for announcing she would give letters rather than candy to children she deemed to be “moderately obese.”  In the letter, she states:

“Your child is, in my opinion, moderately obese and should not be consuming sugar and treats to the extent of some children this Halloween season. My hope is that you will step up as a parent and ration candy this Halloween and not allow your child to continue these unhealthy eating habits.”

Childhood obesity has become a national problem. Parents are increasingly seen as irresponsible and derelict for allowing their children to over-consume sweet and fatty foods. Yet there is another form of over-consumption going on among children that won’t earn them a letter instead of a Snickers – the over-consumption of media. It is not as easy to spot, but it may be causing far more harm than trans-fats.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a new policy statement last month asking parents to change their child’s media habits out of concern for their well-being. According to the recommendations, parents should make a media use plan for their family, keep screen time to less than 2 hours a day, and keep screens out of children’s bedrooms.

Why the concern? A new survey from Common Sense Media shows that 72% of kids age 8 and younger have used a mobile device for some type of media activity – nearly double the 38% who had done so just two years ago. 17% use a device daily. The average 8 to 10 year old spends nearly 8 hours a day with a variety of media; older children spend more than 11 hours a day. 84% of children are online, 75% of 12 to 17 year olds have a cell phone, and 71% have a television in their bedroom.

We may be blind to any concern because of the rapid increase of media use in our own lives. The average American consumes 63 gigabytes of media a day; double what we consumed in 2008. This translates to about 15.5 hours of media consumption per day, per American – with our ability to multitask (consume multiple media sources at one time) factored in. Like a parent who loves fatty foods, our love for media may cause us to overlook the negative consequences for our children. A Northwestern University study from earlier this year found only 30% of parents are concerned about their child’s media use and a 55% majority are not concerned at all.

Victor Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico and co-author of the AAP report says children are, “spending more time with media than they are in school. They are spending more time with media than in any activity other than sleeping. You could make the argument that media have taken over the primary role of teaching kids from schools and parents in many cases.”

This statement should shock us out of our indifferent slumber. This is more significant than the problem that prompted the Fargo woman to hand out obesity letters. Media has taken over as the primary teacher of our children! The beliefs, values, habits, desires, dreams, and knowledge of our children is being shaped by the screen. Looking at the sheer number – and ever increasing – hours invested in media, it’s hard to argue otherwise. Turn on the television, browse through the internet; is this what you want to be the main influence in the life of your children? The AAP statement also noted that, “Excessive media use has been associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues.”

To Christians, this should be of even greater concern. Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs parents to teach the obedience of God to their children in all of life, “You shall teach [God’s commands] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Ephesians 6:4 instructs us to, “bring [children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This simply cannot happen if the media habits of our children conform to the averages. It is the smartphone that will be with them when they sit in the house, walk by the way, lie down and rise; not the Lord.

Make a media a media use plan for your family. Limit the time they spend with phones, tablets, computers, and television. Monitor what they do with special software and keep media consumption out in the open. Increase the power of other influences by spending meaningful time together as a family, investing more time in the church, and focusing more on academic, artistic, or athletic activities. Bring discipline to your own media habits to set a positive example in the home.

It is time for parents, especially Christians, to take action. If a doctor sits us down and informs us our child’s obesity will cause serious health problems if we do not act, we would be irresponsible and derelict not to change. Thus, we our irresponsible and derelict if we continue to put no limits on our children’s media consumption and allow that media to be the primary influence in our home. God has called us to so much more.

-Brian

(image credit)

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