Experts agree that too much TV is not healthy for kids. There are studies that associate high TV time with physical problems like obesity, sick heart disease and sleep disorders, as well as psychological symptoms like attention deficits and lack of focus. Violence on TV is believed to promote aggressive behavior in children and the values emphasized in TV shows are known to be internalized by the kids who watch them.
While most parents are in consensus that too much TV is not a good thing, not all are on the same page regarding how much TV is too much. Experts also disagree as to how much is enough – although some researchers peg 2 hours a day or less as a good number. But the issue is not really numbers, rather balance. Parents must ask themselves the question: does their child’s TV time keep him or her away from other important and valuable activities?
If you feel that your child is watching too much TV at the expense of time for other important activities, consider the following tips:
Children Need Parental Help in Structuring the Time Wisely
Studies have shown that engaging in social activities like playing, talking with peers or engaging in group activities, helps to promote neurological development. In other words, it would be a lot better for your child to relate with people than to stare at the television. There are other brain healthy activities as well such as doing puzzles, playing solitary challenge games, building with lego and other construction toys, playing with dolls and figurines, drawing, reading, do clay or creative crafts and so on and so forth. Hobbies like dance, gymnastics, music lessons, sports, collecting things, and so on all teach valuable skills and build competencies and confidence. The computer also offers some very valuable activities but take your time to explore the kinds of games and interactive learning opportunities that can really help your child grow and thrive. Even mindless computer games require more activity than watching T.V., but you will probably want to limit those to a small proportion of what your youngster is doing with his computer time.
Separate Eating from Watching
The reason why a lot of TV addicts are obese is because they can’t sense that they are already full. The human anatomy’s multitasking skill has limits. The brain is too busy processing what is being watched and listened to on the television, causing other functions to be compromised. If kids must eat while glued to the tube, give them just a few healthy (and low calorie) snacks to chew on.
Separate Sleeping from Watching
There are plenty of reasons for a child NOT to fall asleep watching T.V. For one thing, T.V. stimulates the brain, either interfering with the ability to fall asleep easily and naturally, or promoting an agitated sleep and disturbing dreams. In addition, having a T.V. in the bedroom encourages kids to isolate themselves from the rest of the family. While this may not be a major problem for older teens (who treasure their privacy in any case), it is not a healthy thing for children who still can benefit from plenty of family interaction. Finally, when a child is locked in his or her room with a black box, parents will easily lose track of the amount of time a child is in front of the T.V. and the situation can quickly get out of hand.
T.V. can be a Family Affair
If you want to control what your kids watch, be there with them! Transforming TV viewing as a family activity creates opportunities for discussions; parents can therefore protect their kids better from negative messages found in popular media.
Create TV Time Curfews and Consequences
Allot a specific amount of TV time per day and week. At the same time, put in any rules you desire about what kind of shows can be watched and not watched. For instance, do you want to allow young children to watch the news or sophisticated adult programming? Do you want them to have a certain amount of leisure T.V. like comedy shows, adventure, cartoons and so on, and a certain amount of educational shows on subjects like science, history, crafts, cooking and so forth? Or, do you want to let them watch whatever they want to watch within their time period? Think it through and then discuss it with them at a family meeting.
In addition, set up consequences for those who fail to abide by the house rules. You are the parent, trying your best to guide your child. This is not a debate between you and the child – remember, YOU’RE actually in charge in your home! Therefore, non-compliance with the rules should always result in a reasonable negative consequence (i.e. removal of the privilege of watching T.V. for a day or two – see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for a detailed protocol on using negative consequences).