I’m always suspicious when someone tells me I never watch TV. Invariably, when I go to their home, Wheel of Fortune is on the tube! Everyone watches TV. Although it can be great entertainment and an excellent source of information and education, pediatricians and the American Academy of Pediatrics caution parents to limit TV time for their children and to oversee the shows that are watched.
Studies show that two-thirds of children younger than 4 watch an average of two hours of TV daily. Children younger than 6 have more than two hours of screen time, both TV and video games. Kids ages 8 to 18 spend about four hours watching TV and up to an additional two hours playing video or computer games or on social media sites.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released recommendations, including that children younger than 2 should watch no TV at all and those older than 2 watch only one to two hours daily. The first two years of life are a critical time for brain development as brain cells grow and synapses are formed. Exploration, play, interaction with others, and socialization are critical for the development of the infant and toddler brain. As children age, too much screen time interferes with physical activity, reading books, doing school work, and interacting with friends and family. I am showing my age here, but Facebook and texting are poor substitutes for actual human interaction.
Too much television has a number of drawbacks:
◆ Children who are inactive are more likely to be obese.
◆ The average American child observes almost 200,000 televised acts of violence by the time he or she is 18. Even ‘good guys’ hit, kick and fight. This confuses the child who is taught not to do these things. Kids are frightened by violent images and fear that they may be personally at risk for harm.
◆ TV characters practice risky behaviors, such as smoking, drinking and taking physical risks unacceptable in real life. Gender and racial stereotypes are often reinforced, as well.
◆ American children may see up to 40,000 commercials annually. Everything looks ideal. Kids want what they see. No one can have everything and some things are not worth having.
New technology (High Def and 3DTV) make television even more entertaining. Like every other tool, a TV must be used properly. What can parents do to limit TV time and maximize the benefit of exposure to televised information?
◆ Record programs without the commercials.
◆ Watch TV with your kids and discuss what you are seeing and hearing.
◆ Rent or buy age-appropriate videos.
◆ Keep TV and Internet connections out of a child’s—especially a teen’s— bedroom and private spaces.
◆ Have other activities, like books, games toys and puzzles, in the same room as the TV so your kids can see and use alternative forms of entertainment.
◆ Do not turn the TV on during family meals.
◆ Do not allow TV to be on during homework time.
◆ Treat TV and screen time as a privilege, not a right.
◆ Limit your own TV viewing.
As we approach the holidays and kids are home from school on break, make sure there are many options to keep them entertained—not just TV. Have a great holiday season. I need to go now, Wheel of Fortune is on.
Dr. Joseph Kahn is Department of Pediatrics Chair at Mercy Children’s Hospital, mercychildrens.org.