R.A. Holl

Leiden University Medical Center, The Netherlands


For many years there has been little discussion about the potential benefits of media for children and adolescents. Television and computers were believed to have only positive, educational effects. Over the last few years however, convincing evidence has been presented, showing negative side effects of mass media on children.

Especially in the United States of America, these data have caused much concern among pediatricians. For that reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recently published recommendations for pediatricians indicating how they can inform parents about the health risks due to exposure to mass media and how they should educate parents and children to avoid these risks.

It is impossible to imagine life today without television and personal computers. As a consequence it is inevitable that children watch television and use the computers. The possibilities to use these media for educational purposes, for instance at school and at home, are countless.

The other side of the coin is that many kids use most of their spare time to watch television. The figures of time spent viewing television by youngsters are shocking. During all those hours children can watch violence, sex and the use of alcohol and tobacco almost unlimitedly.

It has been demonstrated clearly that aggressive behavior is correlated directly with exposure to mediaviolence. Children are confronted with the use of alcohol and tobacco by famous moviestars many times a day and often simply copy the behavior of their television idols. The average young viewer is also exposed to thousands of sexual references each year, but only a few will contain important information about birth control, risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

There is every reason to believe that these data go for many countries in Europe, just as much as they do for the U.S.A. The recent outbreaks of violence in secondary schools in the Netherlands and England have caused a wide debate about the necessity to control the contents of television programs better and to start media education programs.