Since the television was invented, it has encompassed a major portion of entertainment time for many persons. It all began with network programming, which only aired for specific hours each day and only aired shows that were considered safe for all. Later, more adult shows were added to the lineup, but only after 8pm- I remember the warnings before the more mature content aired from when I was little- which was also the signal that it was time for me to go to bed. Even this content, compared to today’s standards, was pretty much inoffensive.
In recent years, however TV has gotten more and more open, and less is being censored when it comes to language, violence, and sexual references. Add to that the fact that TV is now available 24 hours a day, and you have the making of a potentially harmful situation for any kid- unlimited access to harmful content is always a possibility (for kids whose parents don’t monitor their activity). But many parents wonder- how much is too much?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following: no TV at all for kids under two, and only between 1-2 hours a day for kids over two. The average in the U.S. right now is about 3-4 hours a day for school aged children- not including whatever time they spend playing video games or doing homework on the computer. This activity is having alarming consequences in terms of kids’ health and development- hence the guidelines posted above.
But is that drastic, or realistic? Personally, I feel that it’s closer to being realistic, but that parents should still make an informed, educated decision about the time their kids spend in front of the tube. Here are some things to consider:
The Overall Health of Your Child
Is your child active or sedentary? Is he overweight or at a healthy weight? Many kids who spend too much time watching TV are overweight- partly because they’re not getting enough physical activity, and partly because of what they’re watching. Many of the commercials on TV today are for food or snacks- and watching these ads over and over creates a yearning for them, and often the illusion of hunger- which makes you go grab a snack. Snacking while watching TV then leads to the association of TV with food- so the next time you watch, you get hungry. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that often leads to childhood obesity.
Your Child’s Ability to Engage in Other Activities
Does your child have activities other than watching TV? What would happen if you sent them outside to play? Would they sit on the step like a bump on a log, or get active outside with their friends? Many kids who watch too much TV don’t have any other recreational interests- their “down time” is spent in front of the tube. This also leads to not wanting to do anything else but watch TV, which robs them of healthy activity and the opportunity to develop other interests.
Why is Your Child Watching?
I will be the first to admit that all of my kids watch some TV. When I’m trying to put the baby to sleep, I am not above popping in a video for my toddler to watch if it keeps her still and quiet long enough for me to do this. There are also times when I will have my older kids watch a specific show to enhance their schoolwork. In my opinion, this type of viewing is okay- which is not to say that they don’t watch purely for enjoyment- they do- but no more than an hour per day. That’s what works for us- it’s not necessarily right for everyone. As a parent, consider why the TV is on- is it for background noise, educational value, or entertainment- and make sure they’re watching for a reason. It makes it easier to monitor the time and content that way.