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Is Your Kid Allergic to Media?

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As a family doctor, I get asked about allergies all the time. Parents will spend days and weeks monitoring a child's diet, eliminating one ingredient at a time, in order to determine if something is having a negative effect. Even slight food allergies and sensitivities can cause not only GI problems and skin irritations, but also behavioral change, sleep difficulty and trouble at school.

It's important to have the willingness and fortitude to investigate into your child's health in this way.

You know what else can cause significant behavioral change, sleep difficulties and school struggles? Media sensitivity.

There is no formal diagnosis for this (though there might be someday -- you heard it here first!). But, as Angela Santomero pointed out on WQED-TV's fourth episode of iQ: SmartParent "Tune In, Tune Out," kids often have an "allergic reaction" to the shows they watch. Angela mentioned her daughter's "sassy talk" that crops up after certain TV programs. Audience members chimed in with their own experiences, including an 18-month-old who would mimic Dora the Explorer's friend Boots and his disappointed "Aw, man!"

This sensitivity that many of us have (ever picked up an expression from a character on TV?) can develop into a full-blown "allergy."

According to Steve Martino, Ph.D. of The Rand Corporation, their research has found that watching negative behavior on screen increases kids and teens mimicry of those behaviors. Smoking (yup, they still do that on TV), drinking, violence, sexual intimacy rates all rise with more hours of watching characters engage in those activities.

Unlike food allergies, though, complete avoidance is NOT the only answer. Instead:

• Positive messages can outweigh negative messages.
• Watching together gives opportunities for comparing TV to our families' values.
• Setting limits helps.
• Explaining our limits enables kids to make informed decisions when we're apart.
• Holding kids accountable for what they watch and why makes a difference!

So, until they make an Epi-Pen that can counter dangerous behavior and cure bad attitudes, we're going to have to watch out for signs that our kids have media allergies. Because we all have media sensitivity!

There were so many great take-home messages for parents in this episode, I hope you'll check it out for yourself, and the iQ:smartparent community to see all the ways we can empower our kids! Airing on WQED-TV in Pittsburgh on Aug 29th at 8:00pm and Sep 8th at 5:30pm, and it will be available online shortly after airing. And check out Common Sense Media for great information about games, apps and just about any media your kids might encounter.