Television entertainment is one of America’s favorite past-times. With the average U.S. adult spending about five hours per day in front of the TV, it comes as no surprise that children are beginning to fall into this pattern as well. While television can be very useful at times for busy parents who need help keeping their children busy, in excess it can be extremely destructive to a child’s wellbeing. The Harvard School of Public Health has conducted studies that have found a strong association between the rising childhood obesity rates and the increasingly extended periods of time that children are spending sitting in front of the TV. They found that the more TV children watch, the more likely they are to be at risk for obesity throughout their childhood, as well as adulthood. Not only does TV viewing promote obesity due to its displacement of the time that children could be engaging in physical activity, but it also promotes poor diets with its thousands of food-related advertisements and encouragement of unhealthy snacking. Excessive TV viewing can also interfere with children’s sleep, which may contribute to their risk of obesity in addition to the many other issues that are associated with sleep deprivation.
Expert psychologist Dr. Aric Stigman claims that the average 10-year-old has access to five different screens at home, which may include their own bedroom TV, game consoles, smart-phone, and or computer. They are constantly engaging in multiple forms of screen viewing simultaneously, which many experts claim is detrimental to their cognitive development.
While these are all compelling arguments for why television can be so harmful for children, the fact is that TV is everywhere and limiting it from children can prove to be very difficult. Here are some tips for how you can limit your children’s screen time effectively while still keeping up with your busy schedule:
- Establish ground rules – the recommended amount of screen-time children should be engaging in is 1-2 hours per day. Decide on the exact amount of time you are going to allow your children and stick with it. You can also get a copy of the weekly TV schedule online or from the newspaper and sit down with your children to determine what times they will be allowed to watch what.
- Limit the screens – take TVs out of bedrooms. Having a designated place in your home for where they are allowed to watch television and play their games will be much easier for you to monitor.
- Get active – sign them up for group sports or classes such as martial arts or dance. In addition to being a good form of exercise, group fitness activities are great for teaching teamwork and social skills. Also try to fit activity in wherever you can – whether it be sending them outside to play or working out with them! Setting a good example is important and it will also serve as quality time together.
- Increase activities – involve your children in extracurricular activities and try to encourage them to develop a hobby such as music, art, or cooking.
- Don’t eat in front of the TV – mindless snacking while watching TV is a bad habit that can not only lead to weight gain, but also take away from valuable family time.
- Fun alternatives – create a list of options that you can suggest to your children in the absence of sports or extracurricular activities. Some of these might include building a blanket fort, coloring, reading, playing dress-up, going on a scavenger hunt, making macaroni or cheerio necklaces, etc.