Television: Know what your kids are
watching and watch with them
People often ask me if I let my kids watch TV – and if so, how much, I respect families who choose not to allow television watching (my family didn’t have a TV when I was growing up), but I don’t think television is inherently bad. It can, in fact, provide opportunities for learning, fun, and family bonding. If you decide to have a television in your home, you must establish policies from the start and stick to those policies. Most important, you should: monitor what your children watch, set clear boundaries about how much they watch ( I suggest setting a boundary such as no more than one hour a day), and talk to them about the shows they’re watching.
My husband and I insisted on one clear boundary until they were thirteen – they had to ask us before they could watch.
If you require your children to ask permission to watch TV, you will always know what and how much they are watching. It’s best to set this boundary early on, before kids might be resistant, but if you didn’t do that, don’t be discouraged; you can institute it at any age. Select certain TV shows to watch together; it offers a great opportunity for all sorts of interesting and instructive discussions. If they see behavior that is inappropriate, you can explain to them that it is inappropriate and talk about why. Even commercials provide a learning opportunity, or at least a chance for shared amusement. These conversations will enable you to convert a supposedly passive activity into a little sharing, a little learning, and a little fun – what every family activity should be.
What other policies should you set? I recommend the following:
- No TV for babies.
- No TV while doing homework or studying.
- No TV during meals (given the importance of conversation at mealtimes).
- Take away TV privileges only if losing those privileges is a logical consequence of some undesirable behavior (e.g. a homework assignment was forgotten and not completed because your child was too engrossed in a show).
- No TV in the bedroom.
Keep in mind that you can’t monitor what or how much children watch if you put TVs in their rooms. This may seem obvious, but about 70 percent of young children have TVs in their rooms, even as early as in third grade, and parents of those children significantly underestimate how much TV they are watching. (One study found that having a bedroom TV increased the average children’s viewing time by nine hours a week.) A TV in the bedroom also correlates with increased obesity, sleep disorders, and academic struggles. One reason that a kid’s bedroom TV watching is far worse than other TV watching is that it tends to be a solitary activity, while family TV watching can be much more.
You should be as disciplined about TV-watching rules as any other aspect of your child’s life. Make sure that the boundaries are clear to your children and implement proper follow-through so the rules stick. Let expectations about what your children are allowed to watch – and when – evolve as they grow older.
If you have clear TV-viewing rules, are selective about what your children watch, and often watch with them, television can be an opportunity for connecting and learning.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
- Do we have clear policies about TV Watching in our home?
- Have we made these policies clear to the kids?
- Do we follow through with those policies?
- Take stock of what your children are watching. Which shows might you watch with them? Which shows are inappropriate?
- Articulate clearly your TV watching policies in conjunction with your partner and any other caregivers. Parenting partners must be on board with the policies so that they are enforced consistently.
- Share your policies with your children.