Wednesday, February 12, 2014

American Academy of Pediatrics: Pediatricians weigh in on screen time!

Media and Children

Media is everywhere. TV, Internet, computer and video games all vie for our children's attention. Information on this page can help parents understand the impact media has in our children's lives, while offering tips on managing time spent with various media. The AAP has recommendations for parents and pediatricians.
Today's children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices. To help kids make wise media choices, parents should monitor their media diet. Parents can make use of established ratings systems for shows, movies and games to avoid inappropriate content, such as violence, explicit sexual content or glorified tobacco and alcohol use.
Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.
By limiting screen time and offering educational media and non-electronic formats such as books, newspapers and board games, and watching television with their children, parents can help guide their children's media experience. Putting questionable content into context and teaching kids about advertising contributes to their media literacy.
The AAP recommends that parents establish "screen-free" zones at home by making sure there are no televisions, computers or video games in children's bedrooms, and by turning off the TV during dinner. Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play.
Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.
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Monday, February 10, 2014

Teen Depression and Internet and Video Game Use

The article below was written by John Grohol PSY.D for PsychCentral.

When you show a correlation between two things, you can’t say which way the relationship goes. Do people carrying umbrellas on a city street cause it to rain? Or does the rain cause people to carry their umbrellas?

We know the answer to this question, only because we know the relationship between rain and umbrellas — the rain came first, and then someone invented the umbrella.
So it is surprising to read that an NPR news story recently noted, “More Time Online Raise Risk For Teen Depression.” The only problem with that headline?
It’s not true.

The research they quote is from the journal World Psychiatry, and the European researchers examined 12,395 teenagers from eleven different European countries. They measured a bunch of at-risk behaviors, such as excessive alcohol use, illegal drug use, heavy smoking and being overweight.

They also measured behaviors we don’t typically associate with being “at-risk” for anything — sedentary behavior, reduced sleep and high media use. Media use included all use of a TV, the Internet and playing video games.

How researchers define the problem often pre-determines their result. In this case, the researchers defined “high media use” as anything over 5 hours per day. And they found that there’s a group of teens — an “invisible” group — that meet this definition of high media use and report increased psychiatric symptoms.

The problem with that arbitrary1 number? It doesn’t reflect the reality of teenage media use today. For instance, this study from 2010 found that, in the U.S. anyway, teens are now spending on average 7.5 hours/day on media.

If something is average or the norm, it can’t also be defined as “high” media use. And the 2010 study was from 4 years ago — I can imagine it’s only higher now.2 So the cutoff is both arbitrary and just plain wrong.

But the researchers didn’t measure whether the teens were depressed before they spent more time online, so the researchers had no way of telling which came first. Is a teen depressed and then turns more to the online world for support, friends, distraction, and emotional engagement? Or do people who spend enormous amounts of time online get more depressed?

The act of spending more time online doesn’t raise the risk of depression in a teenager. That’s not what the study found or said. Instead, it merely showed that if your teen is spending a lot of time online, playing video games, or watching TV, these may be signs that teen is suffering from some depressive symptoms. I know those two things sound very similar, but they’re not the same.

Going back to the umbrella example, if you see people outside walking down the street with an umbrella, you don’t think, “Oh wow, they must be trying to make it rain.” Instead, you just know that the umbrella is associated with rain, and yes, it may be raining outside. Or it may not be — carrying an umbrella has no impact on the weather.

These are subtle but important distinctions, and I certainly hope the news team at NPR understand them if they’re going to write about this kind of psychological research.
Otherwise, parents who just scan the headlines will just nod their head and say, “Oh, look, another study shows the more time a teen spends online, the more depressed they become.”

  1. I say “arbitrary” because no rationale was given for it in the study []
  2. It’s hypothetically possible that European teen media use is significantly lower than the U.S.’s, but I couldn’t find any data to support that contention. []

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Impact of The Internet on Adolescent Mental Health

Dear Readers,

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of presenting at conference in Los Angeles entitled "Navigating the Teenage Brain" where Dr. Daniel Siegel was the keynote speaker. My presentation focused on the impact of the internet on adolescent mental health. My presentation covered current research on how the internet is influencing both developmental and psychiatric disorders in teens. I have uploaded my power point to my www.teenvideogameaddiction website. Go to the "Products" page and you will see my power point under the title: The Impact of the Internet on Adolescent Mental Health.