The Hazards of Too Much Sun “Screen”

Summer break is here and with it the return of the bored child.  It is interesting how kids generally don’t like school and yet so many seem to do better during the school year because of the structure.  Bored children tend to become annoyed and annoying and irritated and irritating. 

It is tempting to let them sit in front of the TV or computer because it’s convenient and keeps them occupied.  Heck, I’m a parent and even with my “child psychiatrist guilt” I have a tendency to do that as well.  Too much time in front of the screen, however, may lead to some serious consequences for your children’s physical and mental health.  With this in mind I thought I would hit you with a pop quiz to polish up your knowledge of the hazards of too much “screen” time for children.  Sharpen your pencil and get ready because here we go: 

1.   According to the Kaiser Family Foundation Survey of 2010, children aged 8-18 spend an average daily media time (television, music, print, phone, computer- including “multitasking” or at the same time) of:

             a – 5 minutes.  Nobody in our society is hooked on media

             b – What are you talking about?  My kids love to sit and chat with me all day.

             c –25 hours… if they could.

             d – 7 hours.

            e – I don’t want to answer this because it will melt my brain.

 2.  Television is the most utilized of the different media, but the computer is catching up.  On average, children watch ___ hours per day of television:

             a – It depends on whether or not you count how much time my kids fight over the remote.

             b – It depends on whether or not I have grounded my child from texting.

             c –No wonder they make so much money on TV.

             d – 4.

 3.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children, especially aged 14 years and younger, have access to no more than 2 hours of screen time per day and be monitored.  This is because:

             a – The child shouldn’t have all the fun.

             b – If the child is not monitored, they may miss a cool re-run of “The A-Team”.

             c –When you say “monitoring my child” do you mean I am in the same room Facebooking on my lap top?

             d – Studies associate unmonitored and “excessive” (greater than 2 hours daily) screen time to the development of various problems in children in the realms of behavioral, developmental, social, academic, and  physical functioning.

4.  In general, the more time a child 14 years and younger spends in front of the television or computer, the more likely he or she will:

             a – Learn to successfully maneuver in the complicated and always changing social world of a teen.

             b – Develop life-long skills such as playing the piano or woodworking.

             c –Become an honor roll student.

             d – Be overweight.

 5.  Some researchers have found that the potential for a child to ___________ may be directly proportional to the amount of time the child spent in front of the TV before age 2.

             a – sprout elephant ears and use them to fly

             b – become the next American Idol

             c –be able to name all of the characters on South Park

              d – demonstrate symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder and other cognitive problems in adolescence that can affect school performance.  (One study showed drop-out rates to be higher in high school aged kids  who watched more TV in childhood; Hancox, RJ et al, 2005.)                       

 6.  Children under 12 who watch scary movies or television shows:

             a – Are fully aware that what they see is fake.

             b – Tend to be less violent or aggressive.

             c –Can’t wait for their first over-nighter in the woods at camp.

             d – Are more likely to be frightened, have bad dreams, anxious feelings, feel afraid to be alone, and miss school.  Not surprisingly, scary news stories generally create a greater fear response.

   7.  Violent media have:

             a – No effect whatsoever on children.

             b – The strange effect of causing children to plant flowers and hug teddy bears.

             c –The nagging possibility of making a kid think he can pull out his eyeballs and stuff them into his brain just like Sponge Bob.                                                          

             d – A potentially terrible effect on children.   As reported by the Huesmann et al in 2003, “For  both boys and girls, habitual early exposure to TV violence is predictive of more aggression by them later in life independent of their own initial childhood aggression.”

 8.  Co-viewing a violent show with a child or playing a violent video game together can help reduce the potential for the child to become aggressive from the exposure.   This likely occurs because:

             a – You can cover your child’s eyes during the really bad parts (or really bad commercials).

             b – Children get angry when the video game console or remote are not in proper working order; you can be right there to fix them.

             c –Is Looney Tunes really that bad?   (YES; especially Roadrunner).

             d – Children who are unsupervised during violent games or shows tend to identify with the aggressor, don’t get the message that, in reality, violence does lead to potentially very damaging outcomes that are permanent, and can be misled when the aggressor is “rewarded” for his or her behavior.

 9.  Cyberbullying is:

             a – The new Lady Gaga album.

             b – A Terminator sequel that was never made.

             c – Never caused by children posting private information about themselves or by spending too much time on-line. 

             d – A major problem of bullying via text or internet that can lead to disastrous consequences such as decline in academic performance, anxiety, depression, and even suicide.

10.  I can help prevent or manage cyber-bullying or it’s damaging effects by:

              a – Pretending it doesn’t exist.

              b – Bullying the perpetrator back.

              c – Wrapping children in huge bubbles and not letting them out until they are 21.

              d – Monitoring my child’s use of texting and internet, talking to him or her about any concerns about it, limiting the overall use, and teaching him or her how to report a bully and how to handle bullying in a productive way.

 11. In a survey of over 4,000 teens performed by the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, Hyper-texting, defined as sending 120 or more text messages during a school day, resulted in:

               a – Enormous thumb muscles.

               b – Much greater percentage of cell phone batteries running out.

               c – Being elected to the board of communication and socialization for Cuyahoga County.

               d – A significantly higher percentage of teens reporting feelings of sadness, engaging in fights, engaging in sexual behaviors, skipping class, sleeping seven hours or less, getting worse grades, and trying marijuana and alcohol, than teens whe texted less than 120 times per school day.

12. True or False:  There are positive aspects to media exposure for children.

                True:  There is some research that shows that educational programming has value, that some social networking helps in developing social skills, that certain video games improve hand-eye coordination, that some video games, such as the Wii interactive games do promote better physical health, and that certain online therapy has benefits for people.

That is the end of the test.  If you answered “d” to every question, you achieved a perfect score.  You are now “screen” certified.   We do not yet know what the actual effects of this cascade of media screen time will be on our children in the short-term and especially long-term.  The data produced by the studies have not proven any direct causation of problems, only association.  You can surmise from the research that has been completed that we are going to see much greater problems than benefits.

Like it or not, however, the internet and other media are here to stay.  Your children will have access to them and will need to know how to use them.  You can help your kids learn to use them safely and productively.  Model good behavior yourself; don’t have the TV on all of the time, limit your own media use.  Engage your child in discussions of how he or she views and uses media and look at what he or she is looking at and who he or she is communicating with.  Perhaps most importantly, as research consistently demonstrates, limiting and monitoring the use of media seem to be the key to success.   

There is a website that has been created to consolidate all of this information and to keep the reader as updated as possible regarding the effects of media on children.  It is geared to benefit both clinicians and parents.  The web address is                    

 I wish you a great summer, not too annoying or irritating.  Do your best to find non-media activities for your children and definitely remember to use “screen” screen.

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