Monday, September 3, 2007

Taming the TV: Guarding Kid's Heart

By: Rachel Olsen

Many parents find themselves competing daily with the media for influence over their kids. Madison Avenue, Hollywood, and cable channels such as MTV and even Nickelodeon have much they'd like to teach our children -and their teaching methods are more memorable than the average parent's lecture. It is not news to parents that too much television viewing is harmful for kids - but how much is "too much" and what kind of harm can it do?

Much ado is made about the affects of violence on television. Research indicates that by the time the average child finishes elementary school, they will have seen 8,000 televised murders. By the time that child reaches the age of eighteen, they will have viewed more than 200,000 acts of violence on TV, including 40,000 murders.

In an unprecedented joint statement in 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry concluded that children who repeatedly view violent programming: 1) are more likely to think violence is an effective strategy for settling conflicts, 2) are less likely to take helpful action when witnessing a real life occurrence of violence, 3) fear becoming a victim, increase self-protective behaviors, and develop a general mistrust of others, and 4) have a higher tendency for violent and aggressive behavior later in life.

Clearly, watching a lot of televised violence can be troublesome to a young, developing psyche. However, numerous studies also show that substance use, sexual promiscuity, obesity, negative body image, and decreased school performance can all stem from the television viewing habits of our kids.

So how much TV is too much? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 2 years and older watch two or less hours of television per day, while children under the age of 2 years watch no television. A study that followed the viewing habits of kids from 1990-1998 revealed that 17 percent of infants, 48 percent of 1-year olds, and 41 percent of preschoolers watch more television daily than the AAP recommends.

Perhaps even more important than controlling the amount of television watched by our children and youth is monitoring the type of shows they are viewing. It is no longer safe, for example, to assume that because something is animated or is marketed to kids, that it is child-appropriate.

Parents are recommended to pre-screen what they allow their children to watch and - as often as possible - to watch along side their kids so they can interpret and explain what is seen. Many televisions today are equipped with the capability to block out certain shows or entire channels that parents deem unacceptable. Put that technology to work for you.

While many of these findings are worrisome, parents can exert some control.
  • We can keep televisions out of our children's rooms.
  • We can limit the amount of time we allow the television to be viewed.
  • We can screen the type of programming we allow into our homes.
  • We can talk to our kids about the dangers of media influence.

So the facts are in, turning off the TV to read, bike, play a board game, entertain friends or take a nature walk is an excellent idea for the emotional, social, physical, and intellectual well being of our children. Before you toss that television set out by the curb, just remember that a little TV is okay, as long as we monitor both the amount and quality of the shows our children watch.