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Too much screen time? Most parents not worried about it, study says

Most parents of kids under age 8 don't worry about how much time they spend watching TV or using other media, from computers to smartphones to tablets, according to a new survey that found a child's use of media often reflects how much time parents spend in similar pursuit.

“We generally found that media use is not a source of conflict in the home” for families with young children, Ellen Wartella, a researcher from Northwestern University, told USA Today.

She led a survey of 2,326 parents who have children 8 and younger. It found that in 80 percent of families, children's media use was not a problem, with 55 percent “not too” or “not at all” concerned about it. It also showed parents have more positive than negative feelings about how media consumption affects a child's learning and the development of creativity. The exception is video games, which are viewed more negatively than TV, computers or mobile devices. “Parents rated video games as more likely to have a negative effect on children's academic skills, attention span, creativity, social skills, behavior and sleep than any other medium,” the researchers said in a release about the survey.

The findings “reveals a generational shift in parental attitudes about technology's role in young children's lives,” said Wartella. “Today's parents grew up with technology as a central part of their lives, so they think about it differently than earlier generations of parents. instead of a battle with kids on one side and parents on the other, the use of media and technology has become a family affair.”

The researchers identified three media environments created by parents: media-centric (39 percent of families), media-moderate (45 percent) and media-light (16 percent). Children in media-centric families spend at least three hours more each day watching TV or using computers, video games and mobile media such as tablets and smartphones than families in the media-light homes, they said.

While media use is not a major source of conflict, 70 percent of the parents say smartphones and tablets don't make parenting easier. And 88 percent of parents say they are most likely to turn to toys or activities to keep their children occupied. Slightly fewer turn to books (79 percent) and TV (78 percent).

The survey didn't look at how media affects children. That's a topic that the American Academy of Pediatrics has tackled a number of times. The AAP says studies have found too much media use “can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cellphones 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,” it says.

The pediatricians' group says parents should have “screen-free zones” and TV should be turned off during dinner. At most, it recommends children and teens engage with entertainment media for no more than two hours a 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.”Kids under 2 should not use television and other entertainment media because their brains are developing quickly and they learn best from direct human interaction,” the group says.

An article on screen time by the Mayo Clinic also notes problems linked to excessive screen time, including obesity, irregular sleep, behavioral problems, impaired academic performance, violence and less time for active and creative play.

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