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Television & Kids – Part 2

3098298663_264963254c_mSubmitted by Danny G., Seattle, WA

Television viewing by Children has been a concern to Pediatricians, Teachers, and Parents for a long time.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is currently suggesting to its members that they counsel parents to limit total media time (entertainment media) to no more than 1 or 2 hours of quality programming per day.  Furthermore, the AAP suggests removing television sets from children’s bedrooms.  The potential benefits of limiting exposure to entertainment media  include improved diet, lower risk of obesity, less exposure to violence, and better sleep habits.  Research suggests that the number of hours spent on entertainment media each week is an important predictor of cognitive development, social behavior, and physical ability.

The promise of educational television for children is something that Parents (nearly universally) hope to see improvement on.  Although more research is currently needed on the topic, Parents are hoping to see effective educational programming for children under the age of 2.  For now parents may appreciate more guidance on the content that is available and on ways to managing Television to maximize its potential benefit on their children. 


Track Usage

Paying attention to how much screen time children are getting will give you a better idea on how much “limiting” needs to take place.  In one study, the amount of television the children reported watching greatly exceeded what the parents thought the kids were watching.  So if you’re kids are old enough to respond in complete sentences, asking them how much television they are watching might be a good first step.  Keeping a log of the screen time each family member gets can also be a good method of getting a complete picture.

Set a Good Example

Children (at least at the ages we are talking about here) watch what their parents do… incessantly.  A really good way of limiting screen time for your kids is to limit screen time for yourself because they are likely to reproduce that behavior for themselves.  An important time to limit Television for you and your children is during the school week.  One study showed a high correlation between television viewing during the school year and obesity.

Make the Child’s Bedroom a TV-Free Zone

Children with a television in their bedroom watch 50%+ more television than children without a television in their bedroom.  Another important factor in making this decision is that you don’t have to spend money on multiple television sets.  This decision is useful in another sense: When you make the only television in your house a family television, you are available more often to put the programming children see into context.

Eliminate Background Television

When watching television is not the primary activity, turn it off.  It will focus your children’s minds on the activity at hand.  It is also important to turn off the television during meal time.  It has been shown that viewing while eating results in the consumption of less nutritious foods.  Families who consistently eat together have been found to eat more nutritious foods.

Do Not Use Screen Time as a Reward

When screen time is used to discipline children or to reward them for good behavior it makes the activity seem more important.  If the child misbehaves consistently, television can even become the “forbidden fruit".  Children may obsess about their inability to watch television and when their TV rights get reinstated, they spend more time in front of the screen than before the punishment.

Use Activities as a Substitute to Screen Time

Identifying in-home activities that children like can be a good way to develop children’s independent play skills.  Parents will need to find a balance between parent-child activities and independent activities.  By turning off the television, it opens up a lot of time to learn hobbies, or spend time with family and friends.  If you are having trouble coming up with activities for your children you can consult the Television Turn-Off Network (www.tvturnoff.org) for lists of alternatives to screen time. 

Talk To Your Family

Explaining the importance of activity to children is an important first step in this process.  Increased activity results in more energy, more learned skills, and fun with family and friends.  It is also important to speak to your kids what what they watch on television when it is on.  For instance, teaching kids how to recognize a sales pitch is important; as is keeping certain programming in the proper context.

There are many things that we as parents can do to limit the negative effects of screen time on our children.  Following one or more of the suggestions above can provide an important first step to beginning a conversation in your household on what television and other entertainment media should provide.  Understandably, some parents who read this will be skeptical that there is anything wrong with their children watching a lot of television, playing video games or spending hours in front of the computer screen chatting with friends.  It is important to keep in mind though, that we are all trying to prepare our children for the “real world”.  There is no video game, television program, or website which can approximate the real world yet, so there are a lot of skills children learn from these activities which do not transfer into later life.  I urge skeptics to take a look at what proportion time their children are spending on interacting with reality.  I don’t advocate turning off the television completely, lest we make our children social outcasts at school where television is a frequent topic of conversation, just to question that the biggest marketing tool in human history is really the best thing for our children to be spending their most impressionable years with.


Sources for Article:

    1. Article 1 - Reducing Children’s Television-Viewing Time: A Qualitative Study of Parents and Their Children.  Amy B. Jordan, James C. Hersey, Judith A. McDivitt and Carrie D. Heitzler.
    2. Article 2 – Association of Family Environment with Children’s Television Viewing and with Low Level of Physical Activity.  Jo Salmon, Anna Timperio, Amanda Telford, Alison Carver, and David Crawford.
    3. Article 3 – News Release: New Study Shows How Kids’ Media Use Helps Parents Cope. Kaiser Family Foundation
    4. Article 4 – News Briefs: Television and Videos for Children Under 2 May Not Influence Skill Development.
    5. Article 5 – Children’s Television Viewing and Cognitive Outcomes: A Longitudinal Analysis of National Data. Frederick J. Zimmerman, PhD; Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH.
    6. Article 6 – Associations between Media Viewing and Language Development in Children Under Age 2 Years. Frederick J. Zimmerman, PhD; Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH, and Andrew N. Meltzoff, PhD.
    7. Article 7 – Television and DVD/Video Viewing in Children Younger Than 2 Years. Frederick J. Zimmerman, PhD; Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH, and Andrew N. Meltzoff, PhD.
    8. Article 8 – Helpful Ways to Reduce Screen Time. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.


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