Too Much TV--Tips to Cut Back

Cynthia Dermody

In an ideal world, my children wouldn't watch any TV. They would not sing all the lyrics to The Backpack Song for five hours straight, or run into walls screaming, "Ka-choww!" Rather, they would spend every day quietly doing art projects and playing Chutes and Ladders--in between me shuttling them to French classes and gymnastics with all the free time and money I had.

I personally don't know anyone who lives in that world, especially me. Some days I'm lucky if I get to brush my teeth. I wish I didn't have to, but sometimes it's absolutely necessary to plop my little maniacs in front of Dora or Sesame Street to get dinner ready, return a phone call, or breathe air.

Now, we don't get many channels at our house, so my kids' viewing choices are really limited. And now I'm really glad about that. Because it turns out that the typical educational programs on PBS, like Barney or Thomas, are WAY better for young toddlers than the violent shows you find on the paid cable channels, such as Batman or Power Rangers. Even a Disney flick or seemingly innocent show like America's Funniest Home Videos are not the best choices, studies now show.

Researchers have looked at the long-term effects of toddlers watching different types of programs. They found that those from infant to age 3 who regularly watched violent or non-educational shows (which also tend to have quicker edits more action) were significantly more likely to develop attention deficit problems later in life.

There didn't seem to be any affect on 4 and 5 year olds watchers of violent programs, but that's not necessarily a comfort to Elizabeth4980, owner of the Unplugged Kids group. "I find a lot of the junk TV to be not only harmful for kids 3 and under, but for kids of any age. TV is a teacher, whether the shows are educational or not, and it is important that the lessons they are learning aren't violence, rude language, and general disrespect for other human beings. I don't think TV has to always be educational, but I think that at the very least it should not be giving harmful messages. Just because a show isn't full of nudity, swear words, and gore doesn't mean it is a good influence for kids."

By the way, her group is sharing lots of strategies and alternatives for weaning kids of all ages off of too much tube, so pop on over. And here are a few of the tips Elizabeth4980 gave to help me through my periods of weakness--they are so good I just had to share them.

Play a DVD "It is all too easy to turn PBS on at 8 a.m. so your 2 year old can watch Curious George. But then Curious George ends and SuperWhy comes on, then Arthur, then Martha Speaks, and before you know it, it is lunchtime and they've watched TV all morning. If you have to change the DVD or rewind the VCR every half hour, you will be much more cognizant of how much TV is being watched and much more likely to say 'enough is enough - go play!' " 

Move the TV "If your family spends most of their time in the family room, then the TV should be relegated to the parents' bedroom, the basement, the den, or some other more out-of-the-way place. That way, when your kids are looking for something to do, the TV is not the first thing that they see."

Break out the old-fashioned toys In general, the things that are going to both hold their attention and help them be quiet are non-electronic toys. The simpler and more open-ended a toy is, the more options there are for creativity, and the longer they will hold a child's attention. This usually means NOT the latest toy at Toys 'R' Us, but rather the old standards: crayons and paper, Hot Wheels cars, dress-up clothes and a mirror, Legos (or Duplos), blocks, simple baby dolls, play kitchens, a stack of puzzles, etc.  A child engrossed in building a town of blocks and driving his little cars around in his room it is just as much a relief to his mother as is a child quietly watching a movie."

Any more TV-busting tips you'd like to add?

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