Screen Media Resource Center
Last updated December 2023
Children and adolescents spend a lot of time using screen entertainment, via smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, TVs, and computers. Youth spend more waking hours with screen media than in any other activity, even school. On average, children spend 4 hours a day watching or using screens, and teens even more so. While screens often entertain, are used for educational activities and keep children occupied, too much of the wrong type of use often leads to problems. Parents should maintain limits on screen media to ensure it does not displace a healthy routine, and be aware of common mental health problems that arise from screen media habits and experiences.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should kids watch the news?
An awareness of news and current events is both important and unavoidable for families and children. However, media coverage slants toward the sensational, with a heightened focus on crime, violence, and catastrophe. This can lead to children becoming more anxious or acting out with unregulated exposure to news. To minimize this families can consider:
- Minimizing young children’s exposure to the news
- Watching the news together as a family
- Discussing what your child has heard, and monitoring for signs of distress, particularly when there are negative media events
- Provide reassurance about their safety in simple and straight forward language
Does TV violence impact kids?
Screen violence can impact children by modeling violence as a solution to problems and leading them to imitate violence they observe on television. Consequently, children who watch violent programing are more likely to be aggressive. To minimize this family can consider:
- Keep screen out of a child’s bedroom for better monitoring
- Avoid violent programming
- Watch together and discuss the consequences of violent acts, if they had happened in the real world
- Discuss alternatives to violence for handling problems
What are some of the risks that youth may encounter when they go online?
Similar to using any other type of media (e.g. television), there is the chance that a child or adolescent may encounter material that is upsetting or that triggers psychiatric symptoms. Sometimes they can also view content that encourages them to engage in unsafe behavior, like self-injurious behavior or disordered eating. If a child is interacting with other people through social media platforms, they are also at risk of exposure to cyberbullying, sexual harrassment, and online racism or discrimination.
What is Problematic Internet Use?
Although many types of Internet use can be problematic, problematic Internet use most commonly refers to use of the Internet that is:
- Excessive in nature
- Difficult to control
- Causing problems with family, friends, school or other areas of a child's life.
- This type of use is also sometimes called "Internet addiction" or, if the Internet use involves gaming, Internet gaming disorder. Children with psychiatric diagnoses appear more likely to develop problematic Internet use, and its treatment often involves addressing psychiatric symptoms along with reduction of Internet use.
How can parents decide which movies are appropriate for their children?
- Use the same care and attention to a movie's content when choosing a movie to watch at home for a child or adolescent as you would a movie in the theater. Many movies are not appropriate for children.
- If parents are unsure whether a movie or video is appropriate, they should view the movie privately before allowing the child to watch it. Videos found on video-sharing sites such as YouTube are typically unrated and should be previewed by parents.
- Having a TV, DVD, or streaming devices (e.g. computers, laptops, smart phones, etc.) in children and adolescents' bedrooms encourages movie watching without adult supervision.
- Check a movie's Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating and read reviews before it is viewed. Movie reviews which discuss appropriateness for young viewers by age can be found online.
What should parents be aware of when watching movies or videos with their children?
- Parents can and should be active participants in their children and adolescents' movie watching experiences by watching together and by discussing content, experience, and impact during or after the movie.
- Younger children may have trouble telling the difference between make-believe and reality. They may be upset when a parental figure dies in a movie or frightening things happen to children.
- Viewing movies with sex, violence, drug abuse, adult themes, and offensive language can have a negative effect on children and adolescents.
- Watching movies together can be a springboard to facilitate discussions regarding situations in films which may relate to your own child's life but may be difficult to initiate conversations.
What do parents need to know about what music their children are listening to or watching on music videos?
- Music provides a way for youth to express and explore their identities, feelings, and emotions.
- Music can have a positive effect on development and sharing music between generations in a family can serve as a way to connect to your child.
- Parents can utilize music lyrics, videos, or social media platforms of musicians as a safe outlet to discuss important topics adolescents often face
- Negative and destructive themes of some kinds of music can be inappropriate for some children. The following themes, often featured in lyrics and videos, can be particularly troublesome:
○ Drugs and alcohol use that is glamorized
- Suicide as an "alternative" or "solution"
- Graphic violence
○ Sex which may focus on control, devaluation, or violence toward women
- Body image related concerns
- Parents can help teenagers by paying attention to their music consumption patterns, helping them identify music that may be destructive, and holding open conversations without criticism.
What should parents know about options for parental device controls and video game education?
- Video games can be a very positive recreational activity when combined with healthy use habits and developmentally appropriate content. They are a highly prevalent part of current society and youth learning skills for balanced use is advised.
- Parents can use well-established online resources to learn about video game content. This includes the Electronics Software Rating Board (ESRB) and Common Sense Media.
- Above resources can also provide written and video clip guidance on a wide variety of gaming devices.
- Modeling by parents of desired media use patterns is highly recommended.
What do parents need to know about playing video games with their children?
- Family video game time has established benefits for strengthening family relationships and connectivity.
- Strengthening the parent-child relationship will further support effective limit-setting around video game use.
- When parents actively participate in youth video game play, it provides a unique opportunity to monitor appropriate game play and social interactions.