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From TV to smart phones to social media, our lives are dominated by 24/7 media exposure. Despite this, many children and teens have few rules around their media use.

While media consumption by itself is not the leading cause of any health problem in the U.S., it can contribute to numerous health risks, say experts. At the same time, kids can learn many positive things from “pro-social” media. The key is to teach children to make healthy media choices.

“It is time for a renewed commitment to change the way we address media use,” says Dr. Thomas K. McInerny, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “In the same way you may need to guide children on how to eat nutritiously, you can foster a healthy media diet.”

In a digital world ever in flux, the AAP is offering some key tips for families looking to make smarter media choices:
• Make a media use plan, including mealtime and bedtime “curfews” for media devices. Media use plans take into account not only the quantity, but the quality and location of media use. Screens should be kept out of kids’ bedrooms.

• Excessive media use has been associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues. Limit entertainment screen time to less than one or two hours per day.

• For children under 2, substitute unstructured play and human interaction for screen time. The opportunity to think creatively, problem solve and develop reasoning and motor skills is more valuable for the developing brain than passive media intake.

• Take an active role in your children’s media education by co-viewing programs with them and discussing values. You may consider having your own profile on the social media sites your children use. By “friending” your kids, you can monitor their online presence.

• Keep the computer in a public part of your home, so you can check on what your kids are doing online and how much time they are spending there.
• Look for media choices that are educational, or teach good values — such as empathy, racial and ethnic tolerance — and interpersonal skills.

• If you’re unsure of the quality of the “media diet” in your household, consult with your children’s pediatrician on what your kids are viewing, how much time they are spending with media, and privacy and safety issues associated with social media and Internet use
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More healthy media tips for families can be found at www.healthychildren.org.

A healthy media diet balances the risks of too much media on your child’s growth and progress with some of the pro-social benefits media offer. Be mindful of how your children interact with media and take steps for healthful choices.

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