The question is: what should and could we do about it?
To find the answer, we need to be fair both to the media and to the kids. Television is viewed by adolescents as “a highly influential, accessible, and persuasive media.” The social context of TV viewing is both reinforcing and stimulating. Some kids do not believe what adults say unless they see it on TV, and don’t forget that late TV programs and videogames may increase emotional and sexual arousals. It is clear that TV and internet are not just “babysitters”, but have profound influence (bad and good) on mental and physical development on our children.
Being “under the influence of media substances” is a common intoxication in our culture. More and more adults stay up late to watch interesting, entertaining or bluntly sexual programs that make them go to bed very late in spite of necessity of early awakening. Some adults and late adolescents are using late TV and internet as a means of dissociation from reality, a sort of substitute for antidepressants. Other adults and kids watch TV because they cannot fall asleep.
Accepting the fact that late sleep due to media effect is unavoidable reality, we could change our attitude from negative to positive using the principle: “If you can’t stop them, join them.” We could put our efforts toward using the media as great educational opportunities for healthy sleep habits, for recognition of sleep delay behavior and its negative symptoms, and to educate adolescents of how to use sleep to increase academic achievement and physical performance. This approach is effective for all ages. In young children, pre-sleep Mister Rogers–type TV programs might give additional opportunities for direct intervention.
The National Center for Sleep Disorder Research took the initiative in this direction with the “Star Sleeper” campaign, which emphasizes sleep as a priority in family life.
Also, in the 1999, American Academy of Pediatrics established a Committee on “Media Education” for the public. Specialists in Pediatric Sleep Medicine are united to further refine the development of practical programs for families, schools and communities to make sleep in our children healthy.
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