Q: My pediatrician’s office just added a flat screen TV to their waiting area so they can run health videos for parents. However, since they haven’t created those yet, they are running Disney movies instead. When my three children (ages 2, 5, and 7) saw Ratatouille playing on the TV, my 5-year-old lost sleep for two nights with bad dreams. I feel they have a responsibility to teach appropriate media habits to their patient’s families. Do you have any advice/literature that I could pass on? This group of doctors is fabulous, so I believe they would listen if I present my case.
Screen Surprise, in Foxboro, MA
A: Dear Screen Surprise,
Many wonderful pediatricians like yours are either unaware of–or do not implement–the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) policies around media exposure for children. Although the AAP recommends no more than two hours of screen media per day for all children, and no screen media at all for those under 2, one study showed that pediatricians rarely find the time to address these issues with parents during well visits.
In a pediatric waiting room, there is a wide range of ages and experiences with media. There may be children for whom some movies may be fine, but there will also be children for whom they don’t work, as you discovered yourself. Disney movies likely seemed to be a good choice because they’re G-rated and geared for children, but research has shown that 100% of animated feature films made between Snow White (1937) and the end of the 20th century contained at least one act of violence. Although it is far from the only content of concern, media violence has been consistently correlated with three effects: desensitization to the suffering of others; increased aggressive thoughts and behaviors; and fear and anxiety, especially among younger children such as yours. Nightmares are
a common response to such media exposure.
As you mention, it would be ideal for your pediatrician to remove the TV screens from the waiting room in order to set a good example for patients about media and health. However, since they've already purchased and installed them, and have plans to use the power of media to educate parents about health issues, it's possible that they will not remove them in response to your complaint.
If that's the case, you could focus your discussion with them on making conscious decisions about what they plan to show on the screens until they have the health videos ready, noting that your child had nightmares in response to what he saw, and possibly printing out the study that we linked to about violence in G-rated movies. Perhaps you can brainstorm with them about content that would be more appropriate for all audiences. One of our previous Q&A's may actually help–someone wanted to know about good movies for 5 year olds and our Facebook fans replied with lots of great ideas!
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,