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Kids and TV – Common Sense Saves the Day

Yet another study has come out telling us that kids and toddlers are spending too much time in front of the TV.  So tell us something we don’t already know…

As a mother and an educator, I am very concerned at the television/video game phenomena of the 21st century.  On the other hand, I realize that television can be a useful tool and can actually be educational.  I also realize that without the TV, my floors would never get vacuumed!   So what’s a caring parent to do?
As with so many parenting issues, I find that a rational, common-sense approach to television is totally appropriate.  Here are some guidelines that you might find helpful:

Yes, we now have television for infants!  I find that most babies are not even remotely interested in the cutsie videos created for them.  And there’s certainly no data to suggest that watching any video will make your baby smarter.  However, I do find that babies respond to having their caregivers talk to them and sing along with movies.  If you’re going to watch TV with your baby, make sure to keep it interactive.  Otherwise, just don’t bother.

Toddlers do have a little more interest in television than babies do.  Once again, they will always get more out of a program if a caregiver is experiencing it with them and helping to “translate” the show into their language: “Did you see…”  “Let’s sing the song together…” “Count the _______ with me…”  Limit the times when your toddler is in front of the TV alone.  I know the seduction of 20 minutes alone to vacuum upstairs or sort the laundry, but try to limit it to just 20 minutes per day at the most.

With our school-age children, there are really two concerns: what they’re watching and how long they’re watching it.  A recent study has shown that school-age children are actually watching more “adult” television than “young” television.  This is a real concern.  There is no reason for an eight-year-old to be watching a crime-scene investigation show.  You must set boundaries around what your children are watching.  Use the parental guidelines that are now built into every single television program.  And remember: just because it’s animated, doesn’t mean it is appropriate viewing material for your child!  Make sure you sit down and watch a few episodes of any program your child is watching to ensure that it really is good for your particular child. 
As for the amount of time spent in front of the TV, it’s up to us parents to limit it.  Most kids won’t set time boundaries for themselves.  During school breaks, we have a “no screens from 10 am to 2 pm” rule that works well for all of us.  That way, we know that there are at least four hours that are dedicated to outside time or creative work away from the shows and the games.  And we work to make sure that we’re hiking, swimming and biking together as a family in the evenings, so we’re all healthy and strong. 

By the time your child is a teen, he has pretty much set his patterns: is he a couch potato or is he so active that he barely gives the TV a glance?  Probably, something in between these two extremes.  The thing to do with your teen is to watch what she’s watching and talk about it.  This can not only be a great way to influence her decisions, but it can really help to open up those sticky lines of communication.  Plop down on the couch next to your teen with a bowl of popcorn and see what’s going on in her world!

By looking at your family’s television habits with a little perspective and some common sense, you can find a happy medium.  And remember to model healthy television watching patterns for your children.  If you know how to turn the TV off, chances are, so do your children.

by: Shelly Walker



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