How to Limit What Your Children Watch on TV
There's a lot more sex and violence on television today than there was years ago, and experts say children are bombarded with harmful images.
"Hundreds of scientific studies conducted since the 1950s have shown a cause and effect between exposure to violence through the media and violent behavior," says David Walsh, Ph.D., president of National Institute on Media and the Family and a nationally known expert on violence and the media.
Dr. Walsh and many other experts agree that parents should establish family rules for television viewing. Here are some recommendations:
Watch TV with your kids.
Discuss with them what you just watched.
Question what you see on TV.
Talk back to the TV if necessary to clarify an issue.
Watch selected shows, not just whatever is on.
Make the most of it
Experts admit that a lot of parents would like to pull the plug. But they know that it isn't always the practical solution. Instead of eliminating it, use television viewing time to your benefit.
"Watching television with your children is a time you can share with them and it enables you to see exactly what they're learning," says Marjorie J. Hogan, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota.
"Parents seriously underestimate the amount of time and the effects television and multimedia have on their children," she says. "They think, 'I've watched a lot of TV and I'm okay.'"
Studies show we inherit our television viewing habits. "For kids who watch a lot of television, the data show that their parents almost always watch even more," says Craig LaMay, co-author of Abandoned in the Wasteland: Children, Television and the First Amendment.
The data show that when children watch 22 to 23 hours a week, their parents watch 29 to 30 hours a week, says Mr. LaMay.
Here's a sampler of other recommendations on family television viewing from the experts:
Control children's viewing hours
For preschoolers, an hour a day is plenty. For older children, an hour to 1-1/2 hours is fine. When possible, limit viewing to educational shows, news (for children of appropriate age) and occasional entertainment. Children need to learn that entertainment comes not from a screen but from self-generated activities.
Pick and choose
With your children, select programs that will be good for them and that don't run up against your own values.
Talk to your children about what they learned and what they got out of a show. If they see violent images or negative stereotypes, talk to them about it. Explain that these things are bad—and why—and talk about what real violence does to people.
Wait until later
If you can't watch a program with your children, tape it to watch with them later.
If you can't watch with them, make time to talk about what they watched.
Talk about the message
Discuss with your children the reality that TV creates in its shows and messages to get specific results.
Do something else
Encourage other activities, such as sports, hobbies or reading.