NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Kids and TV Time

Kids and TV Time

What activity for kids is second to sleeping in the amount of time kids spend at it?  Where do preschoolers spend as time as college students spend studying to earn a degree?   If your answer included “TV”, you’re right.  Children spend more time watching TV than any other activity except sleeping.  It is estimated that by the time a typical preschooler enters school, they have spent as much time in front of a TV as college students spend studying.   Wow!

Children believe what they see on the screen. They can’t always tell the difference between what is real and what is make-believe, and this can confuse and mislead them.   TV can hurt children in other ways. We know, for example, that children who watch a lot of TV can become passive and are more likely to be overweight.  Children need to do things in order to grow. When they spend a lot of time in front of the TV, they lose chances to be creative, use their minds, and develop their motor skills.

Many parents and other experts on children also worry about some of the “hidden” messages of TV. They fear that some programs teach negative attitudes toward women and minorities. They are concerned about the desire for toys and sugary food that TV commercials create in their children. And, of course, the mounting evidence on the relationship between TV violence and violence in our society is disturbing to us all.

But TV is not all bad. TV can also be a window on the world. It can broaden children’s knowledge and interests by introducing them to things they’ve never seen, people they’ve never met, things they’ve never done   TV also can teach children skills such as reading, counting, spelling, and problem-solving, and healthy attitudes toward themselves and other people.

Both extremes with TV – eliminating it from your home or using TV as a babysitter – have disadvantages and miss an opportunity.   The middle ground, and opportunity,  is to make TV viewing an active experience for your children: With a little planning, you can change what might be a solitary experience into a chance for fam­ily members to learn and draw closer together. To add a healthy and human dimension to TV viewing in your home, try some of the following ideas.

Consider their age.  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.

Find out what your children are watching. Watch programs with your children whenever possible.  If you can’t watch an entire program, for the first few times at least watch the opening scenes to see if it lives up – or down!- to its description.  If you can’t join them, let your kids know you’re there to talk about a program or answer questions.  Ask them what they think about different shows and encourage them to ask questions

Talk about their TV time.  Talk about issues that come up on programs, the difference between make-believe and real life, TV characters and how they are like or unlike people you know, and how violence can hurt people. .  Ask what they would have done in the situation shown in the TV show.  Was the action/decision/ result shown the only alternative?  Don’t be afraid to express your own likes and dislikes. If certain people or characters are mistreated or discriminated against, talk about why it's important to treat everyone fairly, despite their differences.  You can use TV to explain confusing situations and express your feelings about difficult topics (sex, love, drugs, alcohol, smoking, work, violent behavior, family life).

Plan a TV menu. On a daily or weekly basis, go over the TV Guide or a local program listing with your children and select programs for viewing. If they want to watch a show you think is inappropriate, explain what you don’t like about it.   Encourage them to watch a wide range of programs.  Consider a no-TV rule for school nights when homework is calling.

Don’t forget the commercials.  According to the AAP, kids in the United States see 40,000 commercials each year. From the junk food and toy advertisements during Saturday morning cartoons to the appealing promos on the backs of cereal boxes, marketing messages inundate kids of all ages. And to them, everything looks ideal — like something they simply have to have. It all sounds so appealing — often, so much better than it really is.   Under the age of 8 years, most kids don't understand that commercials are for selling a product. Children 6 years and under are unable to distinguish program content from commercials, especially if their favorite character is promoting the product. Even older kids may need to be reminded of the purpose of advertising.  Ask thought-provoking questions like, "What do you like about that?," "Do you think it's really as good as it looks in that ad?," and "Do you think that's a healthy choice?"

Keep TVs and computers out of the bedroom. Children who have TVs in their bedrooms watch more TV and videos than children who don't. Monitor your child's screen time and the websites he or she is visiting by keeping computers in a common area in your house.

Suggest other activities. Rather than relying on screen time for entertainment, help your child find other things to do. Consider classic activities, such as reading, playing a sport or trying a new board game.  Join a youth group – 4-H is always a good choice - , volunteer in your community, visit with a real-time friend or relative – real life is can be pretty interesting too!

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