Wilhelmina Hernandez

Imagine yourself as a child running in a field of tall grass on a bright sunny day. Do you smell the fresh air? Do you feel the air whizzing through your hair? Do you hear the birds chirping in the background? This pureness of life may be threatened by media technology available to the new generation. Childhood innocence can be affected as early as infancy and persists to impact individual development into adulthood as a result of media exposure.
Cohort studies have measured media exposure by including Internet, video games, movies and cable TV access via various technological vectors including use of television sets, computers, tablets and mobile devices. Ongoing studies are assessing how media usage (amount of time spent watching, listening, browsing, gaming) and media content can impact social emotional development. Social emotional development has also been termed social emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman. According to Goleman, social emotional intelligence is very important for the success of an individual to gain the ability to connect socially with others.
According to the Harvard Center on Media and Child Health, children between the ages of 8-18 years old watch up to 6 hours/day of screen time. A growing body of evidence from the American Academy of Pediatrics has demonstrated that watching excessive amounts (more than 2 hours/weekday) of TV as a child or adolescent has been associated with increased anxiety, sleep disturbance and increased fearfulness, and ultimately leads to antisocial behavior in early adulthood. Increased media exposure is also related to obesity, which may have a long-term impact on social emotional development by decreasing the child’s self-esteem and physical perception in society. It also impacts the child’s ability to focus due to constant multi-tasking.
The content of the media being watched may also impact the social emotional development of children. It is believed that repeated exposure to real-life and to entertainment violence may alter the ability to problem solve, think critically, and be responsive or empathetic. The Lancet journal published a comprehensive review of the literature on media violence stating that exposure to media violence leads to aggression, desensitization toward violence and lack of sympathy for victims of violence, particularly in children. Given that exposure to violence in media is a risk factor to preordained violence, it is important for parents to understand the importance for children to maintain their perception of connecting reality with others.
Media exposure has also been found to activate the fight or flight response, which generates specific emotions in the nervous system in reaction to a perceived harmful event, attack or threat to survival. Fear is one of those emotions, causing a hyper vigilant state sending signals causing physical responses, such as a faster heart rate, rapid breathing, and an increase in blood pressure. These physical sensations of fear can be mild or strong. Constant exposure to violence can trigger fear, and the body can remain in this state of fight or flight until the brain receives an “all clear” message and turns off the response. This is where parent-child interactions come into play as a helpful turn-off switch to these reactions.
Multiple strong brain connections begin as early as infancy developing from repetitive and positive parent-child interactions, which create what is known as secure attachment. When children have this secure attachment, it helps them deal with fight or flight responses through trust and confidence within the relationship. Parents may build positive brain responses through the use of play as part of daily routine activities, such cooking, bathing and bedtime. Parents can creatively model social emotional intelligence by being attentive, informative and responsive to their child’s needs. Distracting techniques can be used to prevent upsets while disciplining or limit setting are helpful techniques to aid children develop the social emotional skills. Parents can seek help through their pediatricians or other specialists, such as developmental behavioral pediatricians who work on parent-child interactions and child development.
Dr. Hernandez is a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician practicing in the New York City area. In addition, to practicing in New York, she also has medical privileges in the states of California and Massachusetts. She’s interested in becoming a medical consultant for Child care and educational programs. She performs developmental assessments in the areas of socio-emotional, language, motor and the adaptive living domains. Dr. Hernandez discusses the results with parents to compliment the child’s abilities to available child-care and educational resources. Her intention is not to be redundant with the developmental assessments or screening tools performed as part of an evaluation in the state Early Intervention/Public Education Programs which will provide services only if the child is found eligible for services.
Wilhelmina Hernandez, MD
Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics
Founder, A Good Cause: Child Development234 E. 149th St
Bronx, NY 10451
(718) 579-5030