Reducing the amount of time kids spend watching TV or playing video games can decrease obesity, aggression and substance abuse while improving school performance,says Kristine Paulsen, media educational consultant in Bark River, Mich.
“There’s real power when you can get an entire school to support decreased media,” says Paulsen, creator of Take the Challenge, Take Charge (takethechallengenow.net), aprogram designed to reduce exposure to media violence.The program has been implemented in schools in 21 states throughout the country with impressive results: Playground aggression decreased an average of 55 percent and negative classroom behavior dropped 48 percent. When a youth correctional center adopted the program, they reported a 43 percent reduction inaggressive incidents. On state achievement tests, elementary schools that implemented the program showed an increase in math and writing scores. Paulsen’s media reduction program was adapted from a school curriculum created by Stanford University to reduce the negative effects of excessive TV, movies and video games. Paulsen has expanded the curriculum to include preschool through high school and has added reading, writing, math, science and technology activities.Paulsen says a recent study conducted by the PEACH Project provides even more reasons for parents to limit children’s screen time. The study found that kids who spend more than two hours a day on entertainment media are at greater risk for psychological difficulties, including anxiety and depression, regardless of how much time they spend being physically active. Research also shows that kids who spend less time in front of the TV are less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or take drugs. Parents may also see a decrease in kids nagging them for toys or clothes because they are not subjected to as many commercials.“They’re doing better in school, interacting with both adults and peers in a more healthy way. They’re exercising, going outside and playing,” says Paulsen. “They are learning that life is fun, and media is a poor substitute for really living and enjoying the outdoors and friends and family.”