Kids love screens, and they are especially mesmerized by the television. Not all television viewing is bad. Some programming, such as Sesame Street, can help children learn academic and social skills, or explore parts of the world they may not see otherwise. The key to keeping television viewing habits healthy for your kids is to utilize the set in a way that offers some entertainment and learning activities without becoming the only way your kids experience the world outside your front door.
What Problems Are Associated With Too Much TV?
To understand why television plays a detrimental role in the health of children, it’s important to know what problems are associated with too much television viewing. Because television is an inactive habit, the body is not burning calories. Obesity and screen time have been linked in many studies. Every time your child sits in front of the television he or she misses an opportunity to get up and play, which is beneficial to the body – and mind – in numerous ways.
The passive behavior of television viewing also means children are not actively learning and engaging in the world, says Dr. John J Ratey. Kids who watch too much television as toddlers get to school and don’t know how to engage with others or play interactively. Additionally, studies have shown that the average child watches 8,000 murders on television before they complete elementary school. This happens when children have unlimited access to both content and the amount of time they are allowed to watch TV.
Michael Gurian recommends turning the screen off from ages birth to two, since this critical time in brain development for young children requires experiences that come from sensory experiences, such as touching things and interacting with objects and people.
Older children should have limits on the amount of screen time they are allowed as well. According to neurologist Jane Tavyev Asher, an important recent study shows that teenagers who watch more than two hours of television each day have higher rates of mood disorders, such as depression.
What Television Guidelines Should You Set?
Rather than giving your child free reign when it comes to the television, it’s important that you set some basic guidelines for viewing, and that you also consider things you can do to limit the amount of television time your children get. Here are some basic guidelines you can apply in your own household.
- Keep TVs out of the bedroom. This enables you to monitor the amount of time and the content of programming your child is watching.
- Set a specific amount of time per day or week for viewing. This might mean no television on school nights or a certain number hours total per week.
- Watch programming with your child when you can. This will help you to monitor the content they are viewing as well as help you analyze how much television is appropriate for your child.
Find alternative activities. Carolyn McWilliams says when you offer competing activities that are fun and engaging for children, they will be less likely to spend time in front of the screen.