Get in touch with your kids’ screen time

While psychologists documented the increasing negative effects of TV on children in the ’70s, Leonard A. Jason says he didn’t see a lot of work being done to help parents deal with the problems.

So Jason, a psychology professor at DePaul University, began a series of studies that continue even to today. “My work has always been really involved in trying to not just reduce media viewing but to use it as a leverage to have responsible TV viewing (and) also to get kids to do other things,” says Jason, 60, of Chicago.

In 1980, he patented an idea that would attach a token-activated meter to the TV; kids would use tokens received for such things as doing homework or physical activity for TV time. Jason says a company has finally produced a device affordable for families. He has started a new study to gauge how the device will work with today’s families.

Have you seen a social change in your career?

“The amount of violence on TV today and the amount of pornography on the Internet is staggering. That’s something that is not the same as 20 to 30 years ago. The exposure that kids are getting to the worst part of our society is there, and I am very nervous about that. I am very nervous about what will happen in the next 10 to 15 years as virtual reality (allows) kids to immerse themselves in these networks. My fear is that if parents don’t work with their kids in terms of setting boundaries in the amount of time and the appropriateness of the content, that the possibilities for abuse are probably more significant than the challenges of drugs in their environment. The risks for our youth are extreme by the content of what they are seeing.”

What tips would you offer families?

1. No media at your family’s dinner time. No phone calls, no texting, no watching the computer, no watching the stock market, he says. Everyone is at the table from beginning to end.

2. Find out what your child is doing with the media. “Just as you are interested in your child’s friends, who they are dating, how they are doing in school, you want to think of the media as something you want to get to know on a regular basis. What is the child watching? How are they feeling about what they are watching? … Parents have a right to know what their child is doing.”

What are the most significant risks you see for kids today?

Tobacco, obesity and media. Tobacco ultimately is going to kill more people.

New study seeks families’ participation

Jason is seeking families with kids in second through 10th grade for his new six-month research study to help children reduce TV and other media viewing. According to his news release, there are minimal risks associated with participating, including a child’s initial disappointment that media use must be earned. The study will gauge whether the device he is testing is effective in reducing inappropriate use of the media. To participate, call Inga Mileviciute at (773) 325-7273.

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