Is TV really that bad for kids? Can it possibly be beneficial to them? What types of programs should my child watch? Should I allow my son/daughter to watch television alone in their room? These are some of the questions psychiatrists are bombarded with by parents who are worried about the current situation or future condition of their child. There are many theories and opinions regarding kids and TV time, and the younger they are, the more worrisome it is.
Addiction or an Interest?
When it comes to television, there are no easy answers. With everything else in childhood, no two children are alike and TV may be more of an issue for some children than for others. As a parent, you first have to take a look at your child’s TV watching habits and how it affects them individually. Is your child watching television instead of other things he needs to be doing? Is he spending more time watching TV than anything else? Has your child suddenly become introverted and prefers to spend more time with the TV than other people? Does he have a long list of shows that he simply can’t miss? Does he get easily upset or angry when disturbed while watching TV or told to turn it off?
All of these things are signs that TV has become an addiction rather than a source of entertainment. This is extremely unhealthy and can lead to major issues as time goes by. It’s time for some major changes and they need to happen now.
On the other hand, if your child is very specific and selective about what he watches, if your child is comfortable missing that program once or twice or ready to compromise it for an alternating social or academic activity or if he is conscious while watching it and absorbing everything actively then your child’s TV watching is a healthy pastime. Obviously there is a line between television as a pastime and television as an addiction. Here are some ways to make sure that that line does not become blurred and that your child understands that TV is a privilege.
In order to communicate anything to your child, you have to talk to him. Sit down and help him to understand why it’s not okay to watch too much TV and that there are lots of other things he can be doing. You may want to outline a schedule during your talk and set times that are appropriate for your child to watch TV. Many families have found that technology has made scheduling easier since you can record your child’s favorite shows and allow him to watch them at intervals throughout the week rather than all in one night.
Turn the TV off! How often is your TV on even though nobody is watching it? Many people have gotten so used to the TV that they now need it to serve as the background noise to daily life. A schedule is a great way to reduce the amount of TV watching that goes on, and it allows the poor box to be turned off every once in a while. Don’t allow your kids to get in the habit of coming home from school and turning on the television; leave it off until everything else is taken care of.
Provide Fun Alternatives
Rather than constantly yelling at your kids to turn off the TV, provide them with alternatives so that they don’t want to watch TV. Bringing in new games, books, and other activities will give them something better to do with their time while at home. For younger kids, simple sticker books and coloring books will keep them entertained for hours. Even something as simple as this can engage their creativity and stimulates them much more than staring at a TV screen. Arts and crafts activities encourage your child to use their imagination, as well as learning toys, puppet theaters; anything that gets your child thinking rather than just watching.
Kids don’t move around nearly as much as they should. If the weather is warm, send them outside to play. Enroll your kids in team sports like soccer and baseball to not only get them moving, but also to teach them how to be a part of a team. Take time to do family outings as well. Even trips to the library, which are fun and free, teach your children the value and importance of reading. Museums, planetariums, live theater; the options are endless. Any of these not only get your child away from the TV, but also offers learning and cultural experiences.
If your child is really struggling with a TV addiction, it’s time to help them break the habit. Providing rewards along with other alternatives is a great way to help them get off of the couch. The rewards you offer should have nothing to do with TV, but should be focused on other things that your child can do. Trips to the book store, going out for ice cream, or money for a new toy are all great rewards that won’t have your child right back in front of the TV. If you are banning television all together, you could use an outing to the movie theater as a reward. This way they are getting to see a movie but still staying away from the television.
Lead by Example
Telling your child that TV is bad for them while sitting on the couch clicking the remote through your own favorite shows will have very little (if any) effect. If you want your child to get away from the TV, then you’ve got to do the same. If you are going to schedule your child’s TV time, consider scheduling your own as well so that your child truly realizes the importance. Get up and out of the house along with your child and spend time reading and doing other activities. Show your child through your example that there are many better ways to spend your time than watching TV.