September, 2017 - Children and Screens will release a supplement in ​Pediatrics authored by 130 interdisciplinary experts in pediatrics, child development, public health, education, neuroscience, and psychiatry showing that urgent attention must be given to the role and complex impacts of digital media on toddlers, children and adolescents. With a voluminous number of unanswered research questions related to media and child health and development, Children and Screens strongly advocates the creation of an inter-agency initiative homed at the National Institutes of Health (within an existing Institute, such as the ​Eunice Kennedy Shriver​ National Institute of Child Health and Human Development or the National Institute of Mental Health) that is dedicated to advancing the science of the cognitive, psychological and physical consequences of our new media ecosystem, and applying that knowledge to improve child, family, and public health.

Children and Screens is an independent, interdisciplinary non-profit organization dedicated to:

The Problem - Gaps in our Knowledge and Gaps in the Law

The rapid proliferation of electronic media used by children is at once the most exciting and hazardous innovation affecting child development. As research on children and media use and effects grows, it is becoming clear that technology has incredible power to facilitate access to information, teach, connect and entertain. But, as children act as both consumers and creators, senders and recipients, alone or with others, in real and virtual environments, the internet also carries grave risks and adult-sized consequences. These include addiction, “datification”, impacts on deep thinking, attention and distraction, anxiety and depression, violence, cyberbullying, vulnerability to propaganda and marketing, sexualization, impacts on social skills, socioemotional issues, distracted driving, sleep issues, etc.

Unfortunately, the science and the regulatory framework surrounding children and media have not kept up with these advances.

  • Parents are faced with navigating known online risks as well as known and unknown harms, a burden that increasingly falls on children themselves;
  • The breadth and complexity of media effects span across many disciplines and government agencies;
  • Current US policy addressing media effects is a patchwork of federal, state and local laws that desperately need to be updated and expanded.
  • Educators are tasked with preparing students for a digital future, while transitioning to a digital curriculum, tools, and methods;
Our Recommendations

There is now enough sound basic knowledge to pose important, fundamental research questions about how digital media affect children’s mental and physical development and well-being. We are ready to ask: What are the consequences of pervasive, immersive media exposure for children’s bodies, minds, and social experiences? What is the quantity, quality, and character of media content reaching children today? Which attributes account for different children’s responses to different digital media?

Drawing on a pool of collective knowledge and collaborating together for nearly two years, more than 130 experts across many disciplines have developed a comprehensive national research agenda so that these questions can be properly addressed and understood. With more than 100 discrete research trajectories, this research agenda needs to be prioritized and implemented. ​This is critically important as digital media expands its reach and influence on young and developing lives in the years ahead.

To protect children and families, ensure technologies are a healthy influence on development and learning, and to minimize their debilitating and harmful effects, as well as to apply that knowledge to improve children’s health, health of families, and public health -- we call upon lawmakers at all levels of government to establish enlightened programs and policies for immediate and decisive action:

Create a new inter-agency initiative homed at the National Institutes of Health (within an existing Institute like NICHD, NIMH or NIDA) and dedicated to children and media effects​ ​that would:

  • Advance the science of the cognitive, psychological and physical consequences of digital media on the health and well-being of youth, and apply that knowledge to improve child, family and public health.
  • Act as a research portal to access a wealth of interagency knowledge and facilitate study and funding with agencies throughout the U.S. government investigating issues impacting media and child health and development.
  • Regularly monitor and evaluate what is and isn’t working for children and families.
  • Advance funding of more independent research on youth digital media
  • Design and implement a media-centered national multi-center longitudinal study (0 - 18 years old)
  • Dedicate resources for education, prevention and development of evidence-based treatments of internet addiction and internet gaming disorder.
  • Convene a series of interdisciplinary workshops to foster research, dialogue and education composed of all stakeholders that would inform a summit and report to Congress and the President on next steps​.
  • Provide tools to help parents recognize problematic sexual, violent and socially dysfunctional content, empower them to limit their children’s exposure to and creation of such content, and help them discuss its potential influence with their children.
  • Introduce a nationwide, validated psychological and medical screening test of media usage by toddlers, children and adolescents.
  • Develop a data archive on media effects at the National Institutes of Health or CDC

Survey existing federal, state and local laws relating to children and media and assess whether that legal framework strikes a healthy balance between media related risks and benefits to children

  • Expand children’s privacy safeguards to encompass data collection and marketing practices across digital platforms, including the toys and other objects that are part of the Internet of Things.
  • Develop a rating system for all media with clear, easy to understand ratings that would be assigned by child development experts, rather than industry. The workgroup recommends a ratings system used in the Netherlands as a model​.
  • Eliminate access to pornographic material by children
  • Enact teen driver laws that discourage the use of all sources of digital distractions in the vehicle. We recommend that all sources of digital distraction should be eliminated from the vehicle when teens are learning to drive.
  • Formulate and implement an enlightened and pragmatic policy framework adaptive to new technologies; one that is responsive to an environment of accelerated market access and adoption rates, acknowledges an urgent need for balanced input by child development experts, and is consistent with the unprecedented pace of technological change.

Because this is meant as a quick overview of actions that could be taken, not all workgroup recommendations are included here. A full report of recommendations will be made available.

This Policy Brief was written by Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, with help from the Policy Workgroup:

Eileen Espejo, Children Now
Angela Campbell, Georgetown
Dr. Victor Strasburger, University of New Mexico
Lori Dorfman, Berkeley Media Studies Group
Jeff Chester, Center for Digital Democracy