We often hear about the problems associated with children spending too much time watching TV, from decreased attention spans to childhood obesity.
In moderation, however, TV can be a learning tool and a good form of entertainment. As parents, we need to be aware of our children’s viewing habits to keep TV from becoming a negative force in their lives.
l Set limits for screen time. Try to keep TV viewing time to a minimum. There was a time when children’s programming was limited to Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons, but there is now a variety of channels catering exclusively to children. Children could easily spend an entire day watching television.
Parents need to be specific in setting limits about the time spent in front of the TV. Let children decide which show they want to watch, and be sure the TV gets switched off at the end of the program. Many people like to have the TV on as background noise, but a child can be very easily distracted and may be watching far more than you realize. Try turning on the radio instead.
Limits on screen time should include all forms of screens — TV, video games and computer.
l Watch what your children watch. Get to know what type of shows interest your child. Watch with her to see if you find the material appropriate. Many cartoons are clearly intended for an adult audience. Even some programs geared specifically to young people may include violence or behaviours that you do not want your child to witness repeatedly.
l Beware of advertising. Often programming for preschoolers is offered on channels that are completely free of advertising. However, when advertising becomes part of the TV viewing experience, children pay close attention. It is not uncommon for a child to be able to recite the catch phrases for a number of different products or companies.
Talk to your children about the purpose of commercials, and help them see how advertisers try to convince us that we need to buy their product.
l Watch for teachable moments. Use TV programs as a gateway to learning and discussion. This happens very naturally with small children as you watch a program together that talks about numbers, letters, colours and shapes.
When watching TV with older children and teens, you can use what you see on a show as an icebreaker for a discussion about anything from your family’s beliefs and values, to a conversation about sex or drugs.
l Give children other options. TV can become an easy cure for boredom. Make sure your children spend lots of time playing in and outside, reading, or developing hobbies. They need to know that they can always find something to do. In moderation, TV can be just one of many things children can do to keep themselves entertained.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 16, 2012