Consider Health Effects When Deciding on Electronic Media for Kids

AMES, Iowa — Children’s health and well-being can be affected by spending too much time using electronic media. Too much media use can increase the risk of obesity and lead to diabetes, depression and other disorders. Playing video games even can become an addiction. So, should parents say “no” to video games, in particular, or screen time in general, including television? Not necessarily, said Kimberly Greder, Iowa State University Extension family life specialist and associate professor in human development and family studies.

Parents need to be aware that new research shows some kids can become “addicted” to video gaming, Greder said. Douglas Gentile, an Iowa State associate professor of psychology and extension specialist, and researchers from Singapore and Hong Kong studied youth in Singapore and found rates of video game addiction similar to recent studies in the United States, China, Australia, Germany and Taiwan — about one in 10.

Playing a lot of video games isn’t the same as being addicted to video gaming, Greder said; however, parents should decide how much screen time and what video or computer games are appropriate for their children. Greder suggests following guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • No screen time for children age 2 or younger

  • No more than one hour of total screen time during a day for children ages 3 to 12

Healthy, Helpful Video Games Available

Healthy, helpful video games are available for all ages, Greder noted. Such video games can improve skills, such as reading, spelling and hand-eye coordination, and may involve sports, puzzles, problem-solving and traditional educational subjects.

“These types of games encourage physical activity and reward helpful and healthy actions. These games don’t reward players for hurting others or for engaging in dangerous, harmful or risky actions,” Greder said.

On the other hand, just 20 minutes of playing violent or aggressive video games can increase a player’s heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones, as well as increase fighting with others.

Long-term effects of playing violent or aggressive video games can include increased use of violence and aggression in everyday activities; using violent words, language, or actions; responding to others with violence or aggression; and thinking violence and aggression are “normal,” Greder said.

New Publications Available on Electronic Media Use

Two new ISU Extension publications in the Science of Parenting series discuss ways to turn off media to improve children’s health. “Video Games and Other Media: Pros and Cons” and “Obesity and Overuse of Electronic Media” are available as free downloads from ISU Extension’s Online Store.

Science of Parenting Blog Offers Tips

Get the latest research related to raising kids and teens from ISU Extension’s Science of Parenting blog, Subscribe to the blog, get messages on Twitter, listen to podcasts and download ISU Extension publications — with reliable, research-based parenting information.

“It’s all about what parents want to know,” Greder said. “We look for the hot topics in parenting, find the latest research and advice, and then explain it in understandable terms. Parents can use the Science of Parenting to stay ahead of the game and, perhaps, manage their stress level, too.”