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John Monfredo: Is Your Child Watching Too Much TV?

Saturday, July 28, 2012


No parent would ever invite a stranger into the home for four hours a day to teach their children. Yet, that’s what television, a very powerful teaching medium, is doing to a great majority of families.

According to a variety of research articles on the subject of television viewing, the “tube” is having a powerful effect on the health and minds of our children. The American Academy of Pediatrics published in an article years ago stating that children between the ages of 2 and 12 watched an average of 26 hours of television a week. By the time they graduated from high school, children had spent about 16,000 hours in front of the television set, compared to only 11,000 hours in the classroom.

In another study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, researchers stated:
• two-thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of 2 hours a day
• kids under age 6 watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs
• kids and teens 8 to 18 years spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen and almost 2 additional hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games

In the course of the children’s viewing they will see about 36,000 commercials, many for unhealthful food ads and other products that are not conducive to good health. Studies have indicated that these television messages can undermine children’s health, resulting in obesity, poor eating habits, and behavioral problems.

Children who watch too much television are at risk of childhood obesity, according to new research from Canada. Dr Linda Pagani, of the University of Montreal, said it was a warning about the reasons why children could become obese. "The bottom line is that watching too much television is not good…for across the occidental world, there have been dramatic increases in unhealthy weight for both children and adults in recent decades,” stated Dr. Pagani. She went on to say, “Watching more television not only displaces other forms of educational and active leisurely pursuits but also places them at risk of learning inaccurate information about proper eating.”

Viewing Limit Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that kids under 2 years old not watch any TV and that those older than 2 watch no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality programming.
The first 2 years of life are considered a critical time for brain development. TV and other electronic media can get in the way of exploring, playing, and interacting with parents and others which encourages learning and healthy physical and social development.

Educationally the use of television can result in children not reading and certainly can interfere with the development of imagination and thinking habits. The television should not be used as a baby sitter in the home. Studies from California to Massachusetts found that the more television children watched the poorer were their school performance.

Studies point to children who watch a great deal of television as not engaging in vigorous playtime. In addition, the exposure of violence on TV could be linked to increased aggression in our children.
Most of us use television as entertainment, not for instruction of information. There is nothing wrong with entertainment for leisure time does break up our days. The danger comes from allowing the television to consume one’s life and become the teacher for your children. Of course, TV in moderation can be helpful for a preschooler can get help learning the alphabet on public television, can learn about wildlife on nature shows, and parents can keep up with current events on the evening news. No doubt about it — TV can be an excellent educator and entertainer if used in moderation.

However, without going on and on about the ills of television viewing, the question remains, “What can parents do about this situation?”

Set Controls

The first step is to put controls on the television. Each week, review the television listings with your children and write down which programs each child can watch. Together, parent and child can establish some reasonable rules, such as limits on viewing time or no television until homework assignments are complete or no television during meal time.

Consider allowing each child to watch ONE school-night show a week (Monday to Thursday). Be sure that homework and chores at home are finished first. Weekend television could be limited to two of the three nights with one of nights set aside for homework, reading, or family games. Keep in mind that you will need to fill that television void in your home. How about teaching the children how to play checkers, card games or other table games, setting aside paper and crayons for the children to create their own masterpiece and most important, reading with your child. Another idea is to start setting the tone in the summer time and avoid the “TV crash” when school begins. This way you can start regulating the use of TV time now.

Parents as a Model

Being a parent is difficult, for the importance of modeling is essential. Children need to see their parents reading and doing other kinds of recreational activities. Many parents continue to bring their children to the library and some have had great success borrowing audiocassettes on a variety of book titles. The tapes can enrich your child’s vocabulary and can fill an important gap when the parent is not available. In addition, our children should be encouraged to be more active, and the best way to do that is for parents to lead by example. Remember, you are the role model at home.

As E.B. White noted a half century ago, television is “the test of the modern world. Used correctly, it can inform, entertain, and inspire. Used incorrectly, television will control families, limiting our language, dreams, and achievements. It is our “test” to pass or fail.” 


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