A majority of kids — 58 percent — watch TV at least once a day for an average of nearly two hours. With all that TV time, it’s hard for parents to really know whether their kids are being exposed to programming that can cause long-term harm.
Kids as young as preschool learn that society judges them based on the way they look, and television can play a huge role in whether your child develops a healthy body image. Television is chock-full of unrealistic, highly sexualized messages about our bodies and even gender norms. An incredible 87 percent of girls on television between the ages of 10 and 17 are of below-average weight. The best thing any parent can do is to talk to their kid about the difference between TV and real life and to steer them toward programming with a diverse array of characters.
The concern about violence in the media is nothing new, and yet research from Common Sense Media shows that 90 percent of movies and 60 percent of television shows depict violence. Even worse, for every hour of TV they watch, children will see an average of two violent, gun-related incidents. Researchers have seen a loose relationship between watching violence and aggressive behavior and say continued exposure can even make kids less empathetic. Pay attention to the amount of violence your kids watch on TV, and choose shows in which characters solve conflicts in a positive way.
Don’t let your kids learn about sexuality from television. Exposure to sexual programming encourages them to have sex earlier and puts them at a higher risk for teen pregnancy. And it’s harder than ever for parents to keep kids from seeing it. Research shows that the amount of sex on TV has just about doubled since 1998, and 15 percent of instances of intercourse show characters who have just met rather than being in a committed, loving relationship. While it’s probably unrealistic to keep them completely away from sex in the media, the most important thing parents can do is to talk to their kids about sexuality and give them healthy messages to balance the barrage of sexual fantasy.
We all get it — television is a business, and that business is funded by advertising. But does a kid understand that? PBS offers a kids’ guide to watching television that suggests parents should turn watching commercials into a learning opportunity. Talk to them about the celebrities in advertising and about how they’re paid to talk about a product. Point out product placement in shows that correspond to ads run around the show, make a game out of spotting products placed in shows, and talk about the link between the two. It’s also important to try to help your kid identify the emotion the advertiser wants you to feel. Do they want you to feel happy? Scared? Inspired? This kind of exercise won’t just boost their TV IQ — it will help them learn how to talk about their feelings. To learn more, check out the PBS Question the Commercial guide for parents.
What else do you think parents should be looking out for with their kids and TV?
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