Herald Journal Columns
Nov. 29, 2004 Herald Journal

The golden rules of watching TV


With winter right around the corner, our children will spend more time indoors than out and more time in front of the TV.

Watching TV is a major influence on children and teenagers. We’ve all heard a lot about TV’s impact on children, so I thought it’s a good topic for my family and I to review, especially at this time of the year.

Children in the United States watch an average of three to four hours of television a day. By high school graduation, they will have spent more time watching TV than in the classroom.

Researchers estimate that the typical American child has seen more than 100,000 acts of TV violence before he or she is even out of elementary school.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s 2004 web site (www.aacap.org) says time spent watching television takes away from more important activities, such as reading, school work, playing, exercise, family time, and social development.

By watching TV, children can learn information that may be inappropriate or incorrect. They often cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality. They are influenced by the thousands of commercials, many of which advertise alcohol, junk food, fast foods, and of course, toys.

Children who watch a lot of TV are likely to have lower grades, read fewer books, exercise less, and be overweight.

Furthermore, the web site says that sexuality, race and gender stereotypes, and drug and alcohol abuse are common themes on TV programs.

“Young children are impressionable and may assume that what they see on TV is typical, safe, and acceptable,” the web site read.

Active parenting can ensure that children have a positive experience with television.

The following are some golden rules for watching television, compiled from the February, 1997 issue of Parents magazine and the www.aacap.org web site;

• Watch TV with your child whenever possible and ask questions that get kids thinking, such as “what do you think he will do next?”

• Encourage dialogue with your children about what they’re seeing as you watch shows with them. Point out positive behavior, such as cooperation, friendship, and concern for others. Make connections to history, books, places of interest, and personal events. Talk about your personal and family values as they relate to the show. Ask children to compare what they are watching with real events. Talk about the realistic consequences of violence.

• Use shows as a starting point for developing interest. Go to the library and check out a book relating to what you have seen. Devise a craft project inspired by a show. For example, the show, “Out of the Box” encourages this and offers ideas for craft projects. My son made a big animal alphabet book out of cardboard, yarn, and markers inspired by the “Out of the Box” show.

• Point out the difference between programs and commercials. Explain to your child, “This is the part during which they describe products that they are selling.” Discuss the role of the advertising and its influence on buying.

• Select developmentally appropriate shows. “Children’s shows on public TV are appropriate, but soap operas, adult sitcoms, and adult talk shows are not,” the web site said.

• Place limits on how much TV your child should watch. Don’t allow children to watch long blocks of TV, but help them select individual programs.

• Try not to channel-surf. Plan with your child what she’s going to watch.

• Model good TV behavior. Spending hours in front of the TV may encourage your child to do this, too.

• Set certain timeframes when the TV is off, such as study times and mealtimes. Study times are for learning. Mealtime is a wonderful time for family members to talk to each other without distractions or interruptions.

• Encourage your child to be involved in hobbies, the arts, recreational activities, sports, and peers.

• With proper guidance, our children can use television in a healthful and positive way.

What’s coming

• Next week, look for suggestions on alternative activities to watching television. When our children quickly head for the remote control — better known as the “clicker” in our house — they can choose some other kid-pleaser activities.

• An easy puppet show. Children love to put on puppet shows, or, at least, mine do. Use a box and cut a rectangular hole in the front for the stage. Children can then decorate the stage and theater with such items as stickers, crayons, markers, or glitter glue. Puppets can be simply made from old socks, small paper bags, or just their own fingers, fists, and hands.

Food for thought

Our attitude has a great impact on our children and how they view things.

The following is from Charles Swindoll:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearances, than giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.

I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you — we are in charge of our attitudes.”