Q: The television is a constant source of conflict in our house. I am always battling with my 2nd and 5th grade kids about how much TV they watch, but I’m not even sure what a good limit would be. How much TV is too much TV?
TV Tired in Sacramento, CA
A: Dear TV Tired,
Discussing (which is a gentler word for what can go on sometimes!) television usage with kids is often one of the biggest tests of a parent’s patience. Because TV is a constant attraction for kids, and because it gives parents a break from having to provide their full attention, it’s not uncommon for parents to just give up and let kids watch as much as they want. But you’re right—to keep kids healthy, limits are a good idea.
I like to think about TV and other electronic media the way I think about dessert: Once the healthy stuff is finished, you can indulge a little bit. In other words, think about the variety of activities kids need to engage in to stay healthy. They need to do their homework, and they need to play with friends. They need to eat balanced meals and have meals with their families. They need to be physically active, and they need to sleep. Honestly, once all of those tasks are accomplished during a school day, it’s hard to make time for much TV!
In general, though, here are my suggestions when it comes to TV:
Pay attention to HOW MUCH they watch. Establish time limits for how much TV or screen time your kids can have during weekdays and on weekends. For example, once they know that they only have one hour to watch, they’ll choose programs they are really interested in and stop channel surfing because they’re bored.
Pay attention to WHAT they watch. All media are educational, so ask yourself what your kids’ favorite shows are teaching them. For example, animal documentaries can be great, but cartoons may not always teach behaviors you want them to learn. Violence and sexual behavior are kinds of content you might want to keep an eye on.
- Pay attention to HOW they watch. Do they watch TV alone in their bedrooms, where you can’t discuss with them what they’re seeing? Do they eat snacks mindlessly while they watch? Think about the ways in which they watch TV and how you can encourage healthier habits if necessary.
The links above can give you more specific ideas for how to implement these suggestions in your own home. Making TV an active, engaging, and limited activity can not only free up time for other things but also encourage you and your kids to use it in the most enjoyable ways possible.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,