From Olle Johansson
by Dr Aric Sigman
Health Education Lecturer, Fellow of the Society of Biology, Associate Fellow of the British
The EU discusses many aspects of its citizens’ lives. Yet the main waking activity of Europeans – watching screen media – has never been thought of as an issue requiring parliamentary consideration. Over the course of childhood, children spend more time watching TV than they do in school (Zimmerman et al 2007a). The average seven-year-old will have already watched screen media for more than one full year of 24-hour days. By age 18 the average European young person will have spent a full 4 years of 24-hour days in front of a screen. But screen time is no longer merely a cultural issue about how children spend their leisure time. Screen time has now become a medical issue. Research published in the world’s most reputable medical and scientific journals shows that the sheer amount of time children spend watching TV, DVDs, computers and the internet is linked with significant measurable biological changes in their bodies and brains that may have significant medical consequences.Given that children undergoing key stages of development are spending increasingly large parts of their lives watching screen media, the EU must take a serious interest and establish a view on the matter. The following will provide the reasons why.
Specifically it is the age at which the child starts to watch screen media and the time spent during a child’s early years looking at and relating to the medium
of the screen that is the central factor. It is the medium itself that should concern us, and not merely the content of young children’s experiences with screen media.
And there are now sound medical reasons for delaying the introduction of screen media to children. In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued guidelines recommending that children under the age of two watch no screen entertainment at all because television ‘can negatively affect early brain development’ (AAP,1999). In 2006 they issued another statement on ‘TV and Toddlers’: ‘It may be tempting to put your infant or toddler in front of the television, especially to watch shows created just for children under age two. But the American Academy of Pediatrics says: Don’t do it! These early years are crucial in a child’s development. The Academy is concerned about the impact of television programming intended for children younger than age two and how it could affect your child’s development.’ (AAP, 2006) And in late 2011 they’ve gone further, ‘media —both foreground and background— have potentially negative effects and no known positive effects for children younger than 2 years.’
This chapter is based on a verbal presentation given to the Quality of Childhood Group in the
European Parliament by Dr. Aric Sigman in August 2010, hosted by MEP Karin Kadenbach.