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TV watching

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How much time do your children spend watching TV? Young children watch about four hours of television a day; older children watch slightly less. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours per day for children over two and no TV watching for children under two years. Children whose parents set rules for watching television did better in school.

Why restrict tv watching

Here are some reasons to restrict TV viewing:

  • Children, particularly young children, learn by doing and playing. TV viewing is primarily passive. They just sit, which can contributor to childhood obesity.
  • Heavy TV viewers do more poorly in school. TV's fast pace promotes impulsive behavior and an inability to persevere. This keeps children from developing the skills necessary for learning in school. TV interferes with reading time and homework.
  • TV keeps a child from engaging in physical activities and may even promote obesity for some who continually snack while viewing.

How to cut back

Here's how to cut back on the amount of screen time your child is exposed to:

  • Establish screen time limits that include TV, computer, phone, and video game screens and stick to them. Set a timer to signal when to turn off the electronics. Delay TV viewing until homework and chores are done.
  • Leave electronics at home for special outings or family gatherings.
  • Plan to view specific programs — not whatever happens to be on. Plan a weekly viewing schedule.
  • Plan other activities. Encourage reading — follow up the programs with books. Be a good model.
  • Limit TV by setting rules, such as no TV during meals. Research suggests children do more poorly in school when homes allow mealtime TV watching.
  • Keep the TV out of the child's bedroom. Children with a TV in their bedroom went to bed significantly later on weekdays, affecting sleeping patterns.

Get the most out of tv

Here are guidelines you can follow to create more positive viewing in your home:

  • Watch programs together and discuss them. Ask questions, such as "What character was your favorite?" "What do you think will happen next week?" Explain confusing situations. Discuss differences between fantasy and reality.
  • Explain the purpose of commercials. They are designed to persuade you to buy something. Explain how special effects make things look larger, more appealing.
  • Explain how violence is "faked" and what might happen if people tried the same stunts. Ask how the conflict could have been resolved without violence.
  • Encourage watching programs with characters that cooperate and care for each other.
  • Follow TV ratings. These are a helpful guide for parents. Pay attention to them.

Related resources

Watching TV/Screen Time and Children — American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry — Get an overview of the negative effects of too much TV/screen time, and tips for parents on what to do to turn electronic media into a positive experience.

Television and Children University of Michigan Health System — Explore how television effect children, including it's effect on brain development, aggression, gender roles, and more.

Technology and MediaParentFurther — Get tips and strategies for raising media-wise kids, including dealing with video game addiction, sexting, and more.

Erna Fishhaut

Revised 2009 by Kathleen A. Olson, Extension educator in family relations. Reviewed 2016 by Lori Hendrickson, Extension educator in family resiliency

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