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The Healthy Media Diet



The Healthy Media Diet

As a family counselor and an early childhood education provider, I have increasingly noticed a third entity creeping its way into the families we serve. It is truly a smart entity as it has a very clever way of creeping into your life.

The beneficial side is far more clear and evident than the side effects and it has a mysterious way of coming into your family and filling your life with so many joyous services that you cannot refuse.

Countless parents have handed their child their smart phone to keep quiet, others have apologized for their smashed screens by the hand of a toddler or sometimes even an infant. A huge number of parents have bought tablets and Ipads for children under the age of 3 years. And, of course, the old habit of parents calling on their old friend, the TV to be the baby sitter while they finish their work. So what is wrong with being up to date with all these electronic gadgets and giving your child the skills he needs for this high tech world?

It is pretty amazing how extremely young children as young as 1-2 year olds could teach themselves how to use these gadgets and fascinate the whole family by their high tech abilities, in addition to the magical ability of the smart gadgets to entertain your child.

Well, okay but let us take a look at the positive benefits and the side effects so that we can take a willful decision towards the benefit of our children.

I am going to focus on the most commonly used devices which are the smart phones, the tablets and TV, so that you as a parent can make a conscious choice as to whether or not, how and when you can expose your child to different media.

A lot of TV shows specially created for toddlers have convinced even researchers of their beneficial effect towards young children but studies on infants and toddlers have suggested that these young minds may learn better from real life experiences than from a device. (Vivakaran). If you take language development as an example, parents who rarely speak to their child and leave them to a device to entertain them all day, have frequently complained of their child suffering delayed speech and in some cases ‘jargon’ speech, which is speaking in mumbled un-understood words. I personally believe that mothers in particular have an inbuilt method to talk to their child; researchers call it “motherese”. It has shown various levels of language development according to how much and how often the mother speaks to her child.  It is not merely the act of listening to sounds that produces speech but the whole social interaction including all the physical gestures and emotional responses that a device can never replace.

“But my child learned the alphabet from a TV show!” A mother would say. Yes, he will, but research showed that he would have learned it better and faster from a personal interaction. They call this “video deficit”, meaning there is a lag between the spurt of cognitive abilities due to social interactions and those as a result of media exposure, in addition to the difference in children’s abilities and vulnerabilities. (Vivakaran)

So, when you know there’s even a 1% risk that your child could develop ADHD if he’s exposed to TV before the age 2, would you still expose him/her?

Here are the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics: ( AAP2001/13, CPS 2010)

– infants 0-2 , should have no exposure to technology
– 3-5 year olds should be restricted to 1 hour per day
– 6-18 year olds should abide by 2 hours a day

So as a parent, you are expected to make use of the benefits of technology educationally, but to wisely limit the amount of exposure so as to avoid the harmful effects.

Research shows that children may watch television a total number of hours that would exceed the number of hours spent at school and sometimes even the total hours of sleep. So a child may watch 18000 hours till the age 18 years, while attending 12000 hours of school. (Vivakaran )

Again technology is beneficial and can be used as a very effective educational tool but it all depends on when and how much it is used.

Let’s browse some of the unfavorable effects of bad exposure:

Rate of brain development and cognitive abilities: An infants’ brain cells are said to have a very high multiplication rate leading to its tripling in size in the first two years of life. This extremely fast growth is also thought to be affected by how much physical movement and interaction the child is exposed to. Thus when it is mentioned that there will be a risk if a physically dormant child, who is holding a gadget or watching a gadget, will have fewer multiplication of brain cells and this lag in brain development will consequently lead to a form of delay, it makes complete sense.

Effect on reading ability of school children: “The reading habit is vanishing into thin air” (The Hindu, 2004) (Igbokwe), that is certainly very observable, how the reading habits are diminishing and causing changes in the society. I also agree with Shabi and Udofia (2009) when they recommend active learning from books over passive device watching. (Igbokwe) And when you learn that one in three children are developmentally delayed, causing a drop in literacy level and academic achievement (HELP EDI Maps 2013), you just have to take it seriously.

Effect on sleep: 75% of children are allowed a technological device in their bedroom (Kaiser Foundation, 2010). The light emission from the device is thought to affect the melatonin hormone, causing sleep problems that may even reach sleep deprivation.

Aggression, fear and anxiety: This would depend on the content of what the child is exposed to, so violent games can lead to aggressive behavior while inappropriate developmental materials may lead to different fears, phobias and anxiety.

Mental problems and risky behaviors: Overuse of technology for excessive hours has been linked to child depression, attachment disorder, ADHD, autism, behavior problems, psychosis and bipolar disorder (Bristol University 2010) (Rowan). Now this really is extremely scary.

Addiction: It is thought that the absence of parents attachment and its replacement by high tech devices, will lead to the child getting attached to the gadget, which translates to addiction (Rowan 2010).

Radiation: The WHO classified wireless devices as category 2B risk (possible carcinogen) (WHO 2011). So refrain from buying cheap unsafe devices.

Just as caring parents protect their children from junk food and provide healthy nutritious options, they are also required to make and provide healthy media choices and a healthy media diet.

Recommendations for a healthy media diet:

  1. Keep track of the time use according to age
  2. Have the children work for their electronics time; house chores, homework etc..
  3. Make it the last activity after studying, eating and everything else. You can have the child win points or minutes of technology time, relating them to other useful activities.
  4. Choose the content and restrict aggressive or violent material
  5. Use it in challenging situations like; aero plane, doctors office, etc..
  6. Choose educational or mind stimulating content or material that reinforces character and ethics.
  7. Don’t use it instead of a relationship.
  8. Use it to contact family members who are far away or in case of divorce.
  9. Avoid using it as a baby sitter and don’t allow the gadgets into the child’s bedroom.
  10. Again the key is time limit, time limit and time limit.

Like every diet the secret to its success, is to provide healthy alternatives that would make life interesting and fun.



Rowan, C. (2014, June 3). 10 reasons why handheld devices should be banned for children under the age of 12 (Rowan).

Vivakaran, M. (n.d.). Addictiveness of Toddlers & Kids to modern gadgets. Progress through Knowledge.

Igbokwe, J., & Obidike, N. (n.d.). Influence of electronic media on reading ability of school children. Library Philosophy and Practice 2012, 1522-0222. Retrieved from

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Dr. Mona Youssri

Dr. Mona Youssri is a child and adolescent psychiatrist, family counselor and certified trainer accredited by Oxford Press. She has a Masters of Arts in International counseling from the American University in Cairo, is an affiliated International member of the American Psychological Association and a life time member of the International Honor Society in Psychology (PSI CHI). She is founder and owner of The Creative Learning Center, an early literacy based preschool with a unique child psychology based curriculum.

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