Television viewing has grown steadily since the first sets were introduced in the late 1920s. American kids aged 2-18 now spend an average of 5:29 hours using media each day, with the lion’s share of that attributed to TV. Studies show extensive viewing may be to blame for aggressive or violent behavior, poor academic performance, precocious sexuality, obesity and substance abuse.
How do you respond to these studies? Most parents fall somewhere between tossing out the TV and hiring it as a full-time babysitter. Yet few are comfortable with their family viewing habits. Thanks to a long-running public debate, we have a wealth of good advice to draw from. Here’s some of the best:
- Schedule viewing. Together, plan a weekly program schedule. This gives parents a chance to offer good choices instead of always saying no to poor ones, and to set time limits in a positive way.
- Set physical limits on TV viewing. Turn the TV off during meals. Don’t use the set for background noise (turn on some Bach or your local Christian music station instead). And if your child has a TV in his or her bedroom, consider removing it.
- Watch TV together. Talk about any troubling issues as they arise, or take notes and discuss them afterward. Highlight positive behaviors. Point out unacceptable words and behaviors, and talk about the better way. Before watching as a family, be sure to check out new programs that may venture into uncharted territory.
- Talk back to the TV. When a character says or does something you don’t agree with, say so out loud. This is especially helpful when troublesome commercials pop up during otherwise family-friendly shows. Saying, “That’s not true!” reinforces your values to your children and helps them to challenge what they see and hear.
- Plan weekly family nights. Turn off the TV and take out board games, go on a nature hike, play Frisbee, read books together, go out for ice cream.
- Use your DVR liberally. Preview new programs, edit out risqué or violent commercials, and choose optimum viewing times instead of being at the mercy of the broadcaster’s schedule.
- Be a good example. Ever had to grab for the remote when your child walked in? Take an honest look at your own viewing habits. What you do speaks so much louder than what you say.