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Coaching Your Child        < Previous        Next >



Managing Your Child's TV Time


Q. I let my kindergartner watch 'way too much TV. I just get so busy! I know it's not good for her, though. Sometimes, when I look in on her, she's watching a cartoon that looks like it's aimed more toward 10- or 12-year-olds, too. I need to get control of this. What should I do?


Kill the TV, or at least wound it. Reduce your child's TV watching to a half-hour or an hour a day, hide the remote, unplug it, or get rid of TV from your home entirely. The evidence is clear: TV is bad for kids.


A recent study by Carl Landhuis of the University of Otago in Dundedin, New Zealand, published in the journal Pediatrics bears that out. He followed more than 1,000 children from New Zealand who watched two hours of weekday television from ages 5 to 11, and three hours from ages 13 to 15. Those who watched more than two hours a day had attention problems in adolescence that were above the average of the general population, the study found.


Even if the children quit watching so much TV as they got older, they still suffered from attention deficits, the study suggests, meaning that the long-term damage of TV watching on the brain might be more serious than previously thought. The study fell short of proving that TV watching "causes" attention deficits, since it's very possible that kids whose brain architecture already predisposes them to ADHD and other learning disabilities might be drawn to watch TV, anyway. But the connection is still crystal clear.


The main culprit: rapid scene changes in TV are thought to overstimulate a child's brain, getting him or her "hooked" on the "flicker," and making everyday life seem boring by comparison. Teachers and schoolbooks can't possibly compete with colorful, action-packed, noisy cartoons, for example.


TV watching also takes up time that would be better spent building concentration and other mental skills, such as reading, doing homework, playing board games, participating in sports, and good, old-fashioned playing. A child who only knows how to watch TV is too passive and unskilled to excel at anything.


Then there's all the evidence linking health problems like obesity and diabetes to the sedentary lifestyle of the child TV watcher, only made worse by the fact that the vast majority (98% in one study) of the foods advertised on TV and aimed at children ages 2 through 11 were high in fat, sugar or sodium.


How to break the habit?


We all realize that it's best to limit the amount of time kids spend watching TV. But it's easier said than done. In today's harried, hectic households, it's tempting to use the TV as an electronic babysitter. But we all know that's not good for anybody, much less a child.


When you watch TV, your brain literally "shuts down" into a lower level of functioning. It's as if you go on "standby," passively watching the tube. If this happens too much to a small child, he or she can literally get hooked on that feeling. Ironically, while physically, too much TV watching makes kids passive, emotionally, it's overstimulating for them. That's why they're often overtired and cranky at bedtime.


If you give in to the child's whining and let the child have a TV in his or her bedroom, you are compounding the problem. Elementary-age children who watch TV in their bedrooms score significantly lower in several disciplines, according to a survey published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. It looked at third-graders in California and found that those with television sets in their bedrooms scored on average 7 points lower on math, reading and language arts tests. It also found that children who watch more than three hours of TV a day are less likely to finish high school or graduate from college.


By contrast, researchers found that children who don't have a TV in their bedrooms but do have access to a computer at home score about 6 points higher on reading tests.

"I think it's important for parents to take note of this," study author Dina Borzekowski said, "because when the TV is in the family room, parents have a lot more control over what the children watch, when they watch and how much they watch."


In all, 71 percent of kids have TVs in their bedrooms and watch nearly 13 hours a week, the study found. Focus on the Family Psychologist in Residence Dr. Bill Maier said that's too much.


"It's really incumbent upon parents to limit the amount of time that their kids spend watching television," he explained, "to give them guidance as to what programs they watch and to remove TV from kids' bedrooms."


Parents, he added, should encourage their children to play outside, read and participate in family activities. Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media, agreed.


"Common sense ought to tell us that there's a whole lot more to life than watching television," he said, "and I fear that a whole lot of parents have lost sight of that."


Parents can set a good example, he said, by limiting the amount of television they watch.


What's reasonable? The same as your kids: one hour a day, or less. Everything in moderation! That goes for you, too, Mom and Dad.


Homework: A good organization that's working on improving the quality of children's television is


By Susan Darst Williams Coaching Your Child 05 2008




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