Dear Dr. Shore,
I have two children, ages 7 and 9, who spend too much time in front of the TV. I want to set some limits for their TV viewing, but I also want to be fair to them. Do you have some ideas about how I might do that?
Your concern is well-placed. Many children spend hours in front of the TV every day. Statistics bear that out. By the time a child graduates from high school, he or she will most likely have watched about 15,000 hours of television and attended school for about 13,000 hours.
In addition to occupying much of their time, television is also a powerful influence on children. Through its vivid images, it can captivate children and command their attention in a way few teachers can. Indeed, television rivals teachers and parents for its educational influence on children.
Television also can impede children's academic development and school performance. Studies indicate that children who are heavy television viewers (four hours or more per day) typically put forth less effort on schoolwork, receive lower grades, and have poorer reading skills than light viewers (one hour or less). They also have fewer outside interests and less developed social skills. You are unlikely to be able to ban TV from your children's lives -- nor should you. Television is an integral part of our society and culture. At the same time, you might want to set some limits for their TV watching.Toward that end, you might consider the following strategies:
Set some ground rules. Parents have different standards for what they feel is reasonable. Some limit their children to two hours of television a day, or to one hour on school nights and two on other nights. Some prohibit television viewing altogether on school nights. The Federal Commission on Reading recommended that school-age children be allowed to watch no more than 10 hours of TV per week. You might want to designate certain times of the day when the television is turned off, for example, during meals, homework, and family quiet time. And if youre serious about limiting your children's TV watching, keep TVs out of their bedrooms.
Teach your children to be selective viewers. You might have your children go through the television listings at the beginning of the week or in the early evening to choose the shows they want to watch that fit within the time constraints youve set. That not only keeps their TV watching within reasonable limits, it also helps them learn to make choices and to compromise with other family members.
Set a good example for your children. Research has shown that children often adopt the television habits of their parents. If your first act upon entering the house is to flick on the TV, children are likely to do the same. Teach your children to be discriminating viewers by being discriminating yourself. Watch a program or two and then turn the television off.
Suggest alternative activities. The first comment you are likely to hear after the TV is turned off is "I'm bored." Help them out by offering some attractive alternatives -- reading a book or magazine, having a catch, playing a game, doing a puzzle, baking a cake, building with blocks, doing an art project. If your child shows no interest in any of your suggestions, back off, but resist your child's pleas to turn the TV back on. Your child eventually will find something else to do.