Team aims to reduce risks of TV watching, video games

Nov 13, 2003, vol. 28, no. 6
By Marianne Meadahl

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A team of SFU communication researchers believes that children's lives could be safer and healthier if the risks associated with TV watching, internet use and video games were reduced.

With such problems as school bullying and childhood obesity on the rise, the team, led by communication professor Stephen Kline developed a media education curriculum that would get both parents and children thinking about how the media affects them.

The program was introduced it in four North Vancouver schools last May and June. Students were asked to reflect on the role that media play in their lives, and challenged them to explore what they would do if they didn't rely on media as a main source of entertainment.

Participating students reduced their screen use by 80 per cent during a week-long Tune Out the Screen challenge. They turned instead to activities such as reading and active leisure. The 178 students ranged from grades 2-6.

Parents also participated through surveys, newsletters and via a website. Kline says the project aimed to help parents and children gain knowledge of the risks associated with high media consumption, by promoting more thoughtful media use and alternatives to violent entertainment.

The final week's challenge allowed students to choose from making no change to going, cold turkey, screen free. Students planned alternative events and kept diaries to chart their success.

Graduate student Kym Stewart, who has conducted previous studies on the effects of video games on children, says students were encouraged to explore how they use media and consider alternatives.

“The positive results of this show that communities can do something to reduce the lifestyle risks and ill-effects associated with the media-saturated world our kids are growing up in,” she says.

The project was coordinated by the media analysis lab at SFU in partnership with the North Vancouver parents advisory council and the North Vancouver district board of education, with funding from the ministry of Justice Canada's community mobilization program.

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