Your Children and Your Television

May 8, 2007

Many families struggle with finding time to spend together amidst all of the obligations and activities of life. Sports, homework, dinner, baths, clubs and projects leave little opportunity to sit and chat about the day. Now throw in the television set and the hours each day that it is on “spending time” with your children. Hopefully, you are winning the battle against the TV for most time spent with your children. If not, you are not alone. TV has become a staple in most households in America. So, here is an overview of the dangers, the trends, the positives and my suggestions to keep your family protected, healthy and in touch.

When researching the average number of hours a TV is on in a typical American household, I found figures anywhere from 4 to 8 hours a day. The statistics for the average number of hours children are in front of a TV daily are more concise: 6 to 7.

Considering I have heard adults say “watching TV makes your brain turn to mush”, I am slightly alarmed for our future generations! If those statistics are accurate, America’s kids are in school as much as they are watching TV.

Let me be clear- there is nothing wrong with TV fundamentally. The problems that arise are based on how much TV a child watches and how it affects them. Research has indicated that as the amount of TV watched increases, amount of time spent on homework, socialization and physical activity decreases.

More importantly, children need to discover their own strengths and weaknesses in order to find fulfillment as adults. Watching television does not lead to these discoveries. It can, however, limit children’s involvement in real-life activities that might offer their abilities a genuine testing ground. Additionally, young children’s need for fantasy is gratified far better by their own make-believe activities than by the adult-made fantasies they are offered on television.

Although the focus of children and TV viewing seems to rally around the topic of violence, it has not been definitively proven that watching violence makes a child more violent. Studies have shown that being exposed to violence repeatedly does frequently result in one or more of the following:

  • Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others
  • They may become more fearful of the world around them
  • They may be more likely to behave in an aggressive manner toward other people
  • They may get an unrealistic sense of the amount of true violence that exists in the world

Although there is a large amount of opposition for kids watching TV, children and their interest in watching TV does have some positive aspects. There are many very educational, informative, family-friendly programs that are broadcasted. Here are some reasons to allow children access to TV:

  • Studies have indicated that television does increase the general vocabulary of children, especially when it involves terms referring to unexperienced topics, such as outer space.
  • Television does provide opportunities for children to learn about all kinds of things (although whether they do so to any great extent depends largely on the specific programs the child actually watches).
  • Television can increase a child’s range of interests since it exposes him to a variety of activities and topics he might not otherwise encounter- archeology, science of all kinds, architecture, music, etc.
  • Television has probably been the most effective in making people aware of a wide range of human problems ranging from pollution to homelessness. It also has increased awareness and acceptance of various kinds of illness, both physical and mental.

There are some easy steps you can take to monitor, limit and balance the amount of time that your children spend in front of the TV. * NOTE: It does require parents or authority figures living in the home to be on the same page for enforcing the family rules once they are established. Here are some questions to help you gauge some of the struggles you are facing with your kids and the TV set. Is the TV set a central piece of furniture in your home? Is it flicked on the moment someone enters the empty house? Is it on during the daytime? Is it part of the background noise of your family life? Do you demonstrate by your own viewing that television should be watched selectively?

Here are my suggestions for helping to limit and balance inappropriate amounts of TV watching in your family. First, consult the listings of the public television stations which offer magnificent programs on nature, literature, history, current events, the arts, etc. This can be the beginning of screening what programs are allowed and those that are not.

A number of families solve their television-control problems by a no- television-during-school rule, which becomes so accepted as part of family life that they live a virtually television-free existence five days a week, enjoying meals filled with good conversation and a pace of life dominated by their own needs. The children do their homework without the pressure of hurrying to finish before a specific TV show begins. On weekends they enjoy television as other families do in limited quantities. This also creates the idea of TV as a reward or something to look forward to.

Other families set a strict daily time limit of no more than one hour of TV a day, or whatever amount of time seems like a balance for time and age issues. Sometimes the location of the television set can add to the issue of children watching too much TV. Moving the TV to a corner of a room or end of the house where most of the daily living does not occur. This might help aid in it being turned on more selectively. Watching TV should have a beginning and an end, like a movie or book… it should not be on continuously.

Lastly, if your children are going to watch a program, I encourage you to sit down and watch it with them. Not only does this allow you to monitor and know what your kids are seeing, but children often like to share experiences with parents without expectations. You can spend several minutes after the program asking them what they thought about the program, creating a different ending, further developing a character by talking about their life outside the show, etc.

TV is here to stay, whether we like it or not. But, you can learn to use it as an advocate rather than a menace!

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