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Added September 6, 2004

Fighting the TV Culture

by Mark Brandenburg

A recently completed study at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle indicated that for every hour a young child (age two or under) watched TV each day, there was a 10% increase in the chances of an attention disorder by the time this child was age seven. This is happening in a country where, according to the Kaiser Family Institute, around 65% of kids age two or under watch at least two hours of TV a day.

We have a TV culture that not only poses risks for young children, it cuts deeply into time that could be devoted to families spending quality time together.

TV is not evil. There are wonderful programs for both adults and kids. And there is a tremendous amount of garbage. One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to set limits on TV watching (and video game playing) while your kids are young. If these limits aren't set early, kids will tend to gravitate towards the garbage that's on the tube, and they'll spend precious time that could be spent more productively.

When you set limits on TV watching, you'll get some screams and howls from your kids. Don't EVER cave in on these demands, or you'll be sorry. This is your job. Set simple and very clear rules about what they can watch and when they can watch it. Have a time limit on how long they can watch. Many parents have had success with a policy of no TV during the week and a few hours allowed on the weekends.

By all means, at least have a policy of no TV until all homework has been completed. If you want a nightmare around finishing homework, allow them to watch TV before the work is done! Power struggles will naturally follow this policy. Be aware of the desire of your kids to just "watch TV." This usually means flipping channels until your kids can come across a disturbing and violent show or movie.

This is the emotional and mental health of your child that we're talking about here! The average child in this country spends about 28 hours in front of a TV or video game a week, about the amount of time they spend in school. And when a lot of garbage goes in, a lot of garbage comes out. Have the discipline to create other alternatives for your kids.

Here are some ideas:

  • Start when they're young. It's a whole lot more difficult to keep TV viewing under control once they've "gotten into the habit."

  • Keep the TV in the basement and don't make it a prominent part of your household. Your kids will learn that there are a lot of other things to do besides sitting in front of the screen.

  • Get involved with friends and family who also would like to limit the TV influence in their families. It can be difficult when your neighbors or family members give your child free reign to watch, and there may be times when you just have to bend your limits when dealing with other families. If you can create a "community" of other families who feel the same way you do, it will make it a lot easier to "sell" the concept of limited TV to your kids.

  • Limit how much TV you watch. It's a bit hypocritical to watch a lot of TV yourself while limiting TV time for your kids. It may be hard, but make some tough choices. You'll find a great amount of freedom in choosing other options for yourself, rather than being a "slave" to your weekly shows.

  • Give your kids a lot of other choices to make. Expose them to sports, arts and crafts, camping, hiking, or anything else they might develop a passion for. It will help if you show a passion for the activities that you're showing them. The prevailing attitude can be, "Why would we want to be watching TV when we can be having experiences like this?"

    Limiting the exposure of your kids to TV, especially at a young age, will be one of the most important decisions you make for your child.

    They're counting on you-make the right choice.




    Editor’s Note:

    I would like to thank Mark Brandenburg for another excellent article on what is potentially a very volatile topic. Television has become an integral part of our lives in the United States. Most of us cannot imagine what life would be like without it. It provides entertainment for us when we need to unwind and it watches our children for us for hours so that we don’t have to. However, it is becoming more and more clear that the damage television does may not be worth what we gain by using it.

    The study quoted by Mark Brandenburg is not an isolated study. Numerous researchers are coming out with evidence about the harm of both television and video games. But even without these studies, there are very good reasons to limit or eliminate television from your home.

    First of all what is being shown today is really inappropriate for family viewing. Forty years ago what would a child see on television? A boy would watch an episode of Flipper and come away thinking that it is possible to have a deep meaningful relationship with a dolphin and that all children in Florida do is ride around on airboats through the everglades. True, it was silly, but it was basically harmless.

    Today there is so much sex, crime, and violence on television that the average 7 year-old will see more deviant behavior in one afternoon than his great grandfather saw his entire lifetime.

    What a child sees affects him deeply. If he sees something often enough, he labels it as normal. Do we really want our children thinking that the things they see on television are normal? Is this how we want them to view the world? Do we want them to behave that way?

    The United States is basically a very moral society. We want our children to retain this ethic. They will not do so if they grow up thinking that what they see on the television, including the news, reflects how the world really is. It is really for your child’s long term benefit to reduce or eliminate television from his life. It may seem difficult, but it really is in your child’s best interest.

    Anthony Kane, MD

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