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Setting TV limits for your family Send a link to a friend

[MARCH 4, 2005]  Q: My kids watch a lot of TV. I know it's not good for them to watch too much. But how much is too much, really? It's pretty difficult to regulate because we all watch it and it seems that it's always on. What can I do to control it?

A: You are right to be concerned. Too much TV can rob you of time and family conversations. It can discourage reading and it can keep kids from doing homework. TV can also have negative effects on children's learning. The problem lies in the unsupervised "junk" TV viewing that's so readily available and also in the number of hours kids spend watching TV rather than reading, playing -- even just daydreaming.

If your children are young, it's your job to be very selective about the programs they watch. Be aware that there is a difference between children's shows that are educational and those that are mindless entertainment.

  • Most entertainment programs for children are actually designed to sell products -- and children under the age of 9 or 10 don't understand that advertising is meant to sell things.
  • Educational programs like "Sesame Street," on the other hand, according to indications from recent research, have positive long-term effects on children's learning. These programs have content that is well-researched and developed by educational advisers.

By the age of 18, most children will have spent more hours in front of the television than in school. Setting TV limits is important.

How much TV is too much? Opinions vary. Experts say children under age 2 should watch almost no TV. Preschool and elementary school children should watch no more than an hour or two a day during the week or two hours on weekends. Older children's TV time should also be supervised, so that they are watching only programs that you know about and approve.

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Here are some ways you can take charge of your family's TV viewing:

  • Decide how much TV your family will watch. Set weekly limits -- and stick to them.
  • Plan your TV viewing. Don't just watch "what's on."
  • Make TV viewing an interactive, family event. Watch programs with your kids. Let the stories lead you to conversation about topics that are often difficult to discuss: death, divorce, family relationships, sex.
  • Use TV as a starting point. If you see an interesting story, find books or magazines that can help your kids learn more about the topic.
  • Set guidelines for choosing the programs your children watch.
  • Don't put a TV in your child's bedroom.
  • Don't use TV time as a reward. Reward your children with a trip to the library instead.

Learning to spend time without television shouldn't be a punishment. Instead, it can be a time when you learn new hobbies, dig out the old board games or enjoy reading as a family.

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For more information about helping children learn or to submit your own question to The Learning Advisor, go to All questions will receive a prompt answer by e-mail.

Copyright 2005, The Parent Institute.

"Ask the Learning Advisor -- Ideas for Raising Successful Children" is a free syndicated column available through The Parent Institute.

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