Kids and TV: How much is too much?
In spite of its recommendation that children over age 2 watch no more than one to two hours of quality programming - and that children under the age of two watch no television at all - the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that American kids watch about four hours of TV a day. On average, kids spend over 1,000 hours per year in front of the TV, versus the 900 hours they spend in school.
"My kids are watching quality programs," you may say. While some TV can be educational – think Sesame Street - most of it is not. And some of the drawbacks of TV in general apply to educational shows as well.
Here are just a few reasons why parents should limit TV time:
According to the AAP, the average American child will view 200,000 violent acts on television by age 18. While parents teach their children that it's not right to strike another, TV shows them otherwise. Even superheroes and good guys harm others. Violence is shown as a way to get what you want without consequence.
Beyond imitating what they see, many children are also traumatized. Young children in particular cannot distinguish between make-believe and reality, so scary images may be especially frightening. As children get older, news programs reporting everything from violence to natural disasters may leave them feeling vulnerable and afraid of the world.
Television programs and the commercials frequently show substance abuse, sex, dangerous stunts as exciting and cool. KidsHealth.org reports that teens who watch a lot of sexual content on TV are more likely to participate in sexual activities earlier than teens who do not watch sexually explicit shows.
According to a study by Georgetown University's Center on Alcohol Marketing (CAMY) and Youth, American teens were exposed to 40% more alcohol TV ads in 2007 than teens were just six years ago. Teenagers see more than 300 television advertisements for alcohol each year. While major broadcast networks ban hard-liquor advertising, cable networks do not. In fact, CAMY found that the top 15 teen-oriented TV programs had alcohol ads.
And even though cigarette commercials have been banned from television, kids still see people smoking on TV shows. Studies indicate that kids who watch five or more hours of TV per day are significantly more likely to smoke cigarettes than those who watch less than two hours a day.
Obesity – one of today's most serious health concerns – has long been linked with excessive TV watching. Not only are children inactive when viewing the television, but they're likely snacking. Kids who eat in front of the TV are consuming calories almost unconsciously – barely aware of what they're putting in their mouth. Meanwhile, commercials incessantly promote unhealthful foods such as french fries, sugary snacks, and soft drinks.
And even children who watch educational TV without commercials are prone to obesity. Regardless of what type of programs they're watching, kids who are plastered in front of the television aren't exercising, playing outside, reading, or making friends.
What should parents do?
Some experts recommend parents encourage more hours per week of educational programming, while others advise that no TV is a better solution. If a parent decides TV is appropriate for occasional entertainment, it's important that they control the amount of time spent in front of the screen as well as the programs they allow their children to watch.
TV rules for kids
- Keep the TVs in family areas and out of the kids' bedrooms.
- Know what your kids are watching. Preview the show before the children see it, or devote at least the first few minutes to determine whether or not the show they're viewing is appropriate.
- When watching TV with your kids, discuss what you're seeing. Many programs provide opportunities for parents to share their beliefs about a variety of subjects, such as underage drinking, family life, differences among people, and so much more.
- Encourage your child to do something (other than snacking) while watching TV – work on a puzzle, color with crayons, knit, build a model airplane. Kids may find that the project at hand is more interesting than what's on the boob tube.
- Turn off the TV before school, at mealtime, and while the kids are doing homework.
- Turn it off as soon as a program is over, rather than surf the channels looking for something else to watch.
If your children are permitted to watch TV, make sure they know that it's a privilege or an occasional treat, not an entitlement. Keep an eye on what and how much they watch, and set a good example yourself by limiting the amount of television you watch.