When I read about media multi-tasking, or the act of using multiple screens at once, my mind jumped to a vision: a child watching the images of an advertisement on a muted television screen–“dial this number for weight loss supplements!”—while hearing a commercial between songs on Pandora—“stop by for our new double bacon Hawaiian burger”—while surfing the Internet on her smart phone and coming across the latest sex-driven Skyy Vodka ad.
In an age where the thought process among young people seems to be, “why just watch TV when I can also text my friends AND use my laptop?” this vision isn’t just likely, it’s potentially harmful.
Russell Jago and his colleagues, exercise scientists from the University of Bristol in England, asked 10 and 11 year olds how they use screen devices in their homes. Almost all the kids had a television at home, followed by 75 percent that had a game console, 71 percent with laptops, 62 with desktop computers, and 51 percent with their own smart phones. Most of the kids used more than one at a time.
Balancing multiple screens leaves kids open to receiving more of the media’s messages, which can be detrimental to their body image, self-esteem, and self-perception.
In addition to negative psychological outcomes, excessive screen time comes with other consequences. The cross-promotion of food products and popular cartoon, TV, or movie characters may make high-sugar, processed foods more appealing to children than healthier whole foods. Most importantly, the time that all the screen devices occupy is time that children could spend in more meaningful physical activities, using their whole bodies instead of just their thumbs.
In his study, Jago offers a solution: families need to set limits for all this screen time. Even if goals aren’t met, he says, “setting goals makes children and parents aware of how much they are doing.”
This is advice all of us could follow. Are you aware of how much time you devote to screen devices each day? Do you feel its effects?