By CLAIRE TREVETT
Child health specialists are worried the time children spend watching television or on the computer could endanger their health and development.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians compiled research on the effects of electronic media on children and released its findings in a new paper, Children and the Media: Advocating for the Future.
It recommends parents monitor the time children spend at a computer or watching television, and the type of programmes they watch.
Dr Shanthi Ameratunga, a paediatrics lecturer at the Auckland School of Medicine, said some programmes were beneficial, but parents needed to police what their children were watching.
She said if children were too young for a particular type of programme it could affect their neurological development.
"Background television reduces the attention span of young children, many of whom do not understand the emotions they experience while watching," Dr Ameratunga said.
"Most pre-school children cannot distinguish between advertising and programmes and there is evidence that repeated exposure to violence changes brain function, desensitising the child to further violence."
Television time needed to be limited because it was passive and often children were not getting the social interaction or physical activity they required to stay healthy.
The paper said the effect of inappropriate use of electronic media could result in violence, eating disorders or copycat suicides.
There were no statistics on the amount of time New Zealand children spent on all types of electronic media. But the paper estimated that children in the United States s spend on average 6 1/2 hours a day in front of television, video games or computers.
In a school year they spend more time with electronic media than in the classroom.
In New Zealand, 9 per cent of children said they did not watch television or videos during the week and 8.6 per cent did not watch at the weekend.
About half of New Zealand children watched television for fewer than four hours a weekend and two thirds watched for fewer than 10 hours each week, the paper said.
The report recommended that government agencies and health authorities should regulate food advertising aimed at children, improve the quality of children's television programmes, and educate parents on the effects TV and computers had on children.
* Do not use television as a "babysitter".
* Limit the time your child spends on electronic media (experts suggest two hours a day).
* Keep televisions and computers out of bedrooms.
* Turn off television and radio for meal times and homework.
* Read to your children at bedtime.
* Encourage your children into sports and other hobbies.
* Young babies should have interactive playtime - not television.
* Check video games for violence levels.
More information: Children and the media
Herald Feature: Health
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By CLAIRE TREVETT