The AAP discourages TV and other media use by children younger than 2 years and encourages interactive play. For older children, total entertainment screen time should be limited to less than 1 to 2 hours per day.
You’ll all discover more constructive ways to fill the time, separately and together. Some examples include:
- Taking part in outdoor activities
- Talking more to one another
Expect to encounter resistance at first. After all, change is never easy. If yours is a household where the TV regularly blares for five, six or seven hours a day, wean the family gradually. Try cutting down by an hour a week or go cold turkey. The two-hour maximum includes time spent in front of any screen, including the computer and video games.
Make TV viewing an active choice, as if you were picking a movie from the newspaper. “How about if we watch at seven-thirty?”
Hide the remote! Eliminate channel surfing, which encourages passive viewing. When family members have to get up to change the channel, they may be more selective about the programs they watch. If nothing else, at least they’ll be getting some exercise.
When the show you wanted to watch is over, turn off the set. Also, if the program you choose isn’t compelling enough to watch actively, it’s not worth keeping on as background noise.
Make a household rule: no TV in your youngster’s bedroom. Although adolescents deserve their privacy, they hardly need another reason to isolate themselves from the rest of the family. Children should watch their favorite shows in a central area of the home. Even if you’re not sitting down with them, this allows for conversation when you’re passing through and enables you to keep closer tabs on what they’re watching.
Whenever possible, videotape programs and watch them later. Fastforwarding through commercials will shave ten minutes off every hour of TV viewing, not to mention help your youngster hold on to her allowance longer. (When watching TV in “real time,” mute the sound during the breaks.) Taping shows ahead of time also allows you to hit the PAUSE button when you want to make a point or have a family discussion about something you’ve just seen onscreen.
Discourage repeated viewings of the same video. The graphic language, violence and sexual content of movies rated PG-13 and R can have a cumulative effect on a child if they’re watched over and over again.
Harness the power of television in a positive way. For all its flaws, TV can be a valuable tool for learning and expanding one’s awareness of the world.
Here’s what you can do to help your child get the most enjoyment out of the experience:
- Peruse the TV listings for programs, specials, documentaries and other films that explore areas of interest to him.
- Use events in the news and subjects of fictitious programs as springboards for discussion.
- Encourage your youngster to broaden her horizons by watching programs that transport her to other times and places, or that expose her to different perspectives or philosophies.
Make use of ratings systems to know whether or not a program or movie is appropriate for your child. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) jointly developed the “TV Parental Guidelines,” similar to the movie-rating system adopted by the MPAA in 1966.
Talk back to your TV! Parents are rightfully perturbed about the seemingly endless stream of violence and sex in television programs and films, including those aimed at young people. We should be equally concerned about what they don’t show: namely, the real-life consequences of such actions. For example, 75 percent of the violent scenes on TV fail to show the perpetrator expressing remorse, or being criticized or penalized for his actions. Similarly, a study from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that over a one-week period, roughly 90 percent of the television programs containing sex scenes did not include a single reference to the risk of pregnancy or acquiring a sexually transmitted disease from unprotected sex.