For parents, it can often seem like their children are being lost to the tempting clutches of a technological world. Instead of playing outside in the fresh air or creating adventures in tree houses, many children now invest their imaginations in the flashing of television screens and video games. A large percentage of children in the U.S. spend over three hours every day watching the TV–an alarming statistic with potentially severe consequences if we fail to check this trend.
Research has confirmed that TV messages are not always benign and have the potential to alter a child’s maturation, foster aggression, or even impair attention spans. Parents know they need to limit the amount and type of TV their children watch, but placing limits is always easier said than done. Cutting television consumption down to less than an hour a day, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, is hard. Parents have increasingly packed schedules and often little time to monitor their children’s television viewing habits. TV provides endless entertainment, and I have found that many parents have so much anxiety about allowing their children to have unstructured time outside that they prefer to let their children watch TV in the safety of their living room.
An article in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics posed the following question about TV viewing and children: would replacing the programming that includes violence with educational and positive message programming alter reduce TV’s effect on children? In their study, researchers informed families about the dangers of violent television shows and introduced them to programs that promoted positive societal ideals. The focus was no longer on how long TV was watched, but on what was being watched. The study found that when parents sat down with their children to explain and moderate educational television content, the children who watched these pro-social programs became less aggressive and interacted with peers in a more appropriate manner. So, instead of battling with your child about switching the television off, just flip the channel to a healthy, educational show and watch it together. Unsupervised, unstructured viewing is what parents want to avoid. Both you and your child will be satisfied, and such a little change may increase your child’s curiosity about the world. Watching quality TV will not be a substitute for the great outdoors, unstructured play, physical activity, and your attention, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Written collaboratively by Keri Register and Dr. Paul Smolen