Determining how much television is healthy for a child to watch can be difficult for a parent. Watching the television can be very entertaining for young children, it may help them develop some language skills and it gives them a chance to learn about the world. On the other hand it can be very addictive and research has shown it can even contribute to obesity, poor grades, sleep problems and behavioral issues (Med.umich.edu, 2015).
Watching too much television can also reduce the amount of time that a child spends on other activities like playing outside, reading, playing imaginatively and socialising with friends. Then you have to consider the quality of content they are watching — they may be exposed to some inappropriate content and a lot of advertising. A great deal of that advertising is aimed at teaching children to demand fast food or the latest toy.
If you are busy around the house doing other things, the amount of television your child watches may get out of hand quickly. Researchers have found that children are also being exposed to television at an earlier age, with 74% of children under the age of 2 now watching television and nearly 60% of those watching an average of two hours a day (Kff.org, 2015).
Many parents believe that their child is learning while watching television, but studies show that the perceived positive effects of watching television are over rated. Studies have confirmed that conversations with another person (not flashing images on a television) are the best way for a child to learn language skills (Parentingscience.com, 2015). Even worse news is that shows like SpongeBob might be actually hindering abstract thinking, short-term memory and impulse control in preschoolers (ABC News, 2011).
So the warning signs are there for parents, but what is the best way to reduce the amount of television your child is watching? To help, here are 6 ways to stop your child from watching too much TV.
1. Make the Whole Family Cut Back on Television
The most effective way to get your child to cut back on their television watching is for the whole family to cut back as well. Make television a treat and not the normal night time or day time activity. Some families have their television going in the background all day and all night. Doing so increases the exposure that everyone in the family receives and makes children think television is a “must-have” and not a special event. A good place to start is turning the television off during meal times.
Cutting back on the amount of television you watch will do your entire family good as you can spend more time communicating with each other, playing board games, reading or enjoying other fun activities.
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2. Set Limits and Let them Choose Programming
When your child is in the 4 to 6 age bracket they begin to understand deal making and bargaining. Tell them they can watch a specific amount of television per day and they get to choose which children’s programs they watch. Make sure there is some semblance of fairness to the system, so they see that other family members also limited as to the amount of television they can watch. A good place to start for children at this age is 2 hours per day on the weekdays and 3 hours per day on the weekends.
Don’t use the television as a punishment or reward. It is a time-limited source of entertainment and the amount of time spent watching it must be consistent — not linked to behaviour. Use a timer to enforce watching limits, because they can’t argue with the clock!
By letting them choose the programs they watch, the child evaluates the quality of programming and realizes what kinds of activities they enjoy more than others.
3. Watch Good Quality Television and Turn off Ads
Many parents now use subscription services like Netflix for their television requirements. That way they can access specific children’s programs without the advertising that comes with it on free to air or cable television. Netflix also has parental controls so they can restrict television watching very easily.
4. Have Alternative Activities Ready to go!
If your child is glued to the television and you are trying to turn it off without them having a tantrum, have the alternatives ready to go. If they are seriously addicted to the television, they might have to be very attractive alternatives at first (going to the park or an ice cream parlour), but gradually their addiction will subside. Think of new activities that your child might enjoy like making things, visiting new places, playing board games and reading. Start some daily routines with your child like walking the dog or going for a bike ride every afternoon, instead of watching afternoon television.
5. Embrace the Internet to Create Worthwhile Viewing
Instead of plopping your child in front of the television for an hour to watch “whatever is on”, choose programming carefully and harness curated programming. YouTube is a great source of curated programming, with playlists that feature interesting stories for young children. You can also find playlists with documentaries and other educational material to match your child’s interests. While the Internet is one of the best ways to stop your child from watching too much TV, be very careful about how much they can access. Use software that limits them to specific sites and searches.
6. Explore the World with Them and Get Away From Television Entirely!
Children between 4 and 6 are just learning what things they like to do and are keen to explore the world. Find interesting activities like exploring the local museum or park. Spend time talking to them about the things they see. Suddenly television will be very dull compared to exploring a new part of the world. Foster conversation around the home and talk to your children about everything they are doing, be it reading or playing with dinosaur toys! Conversation is easily one of the best ways to stop your child from watching too much TV.
Remember that television is not a babysitter. If your child spends too much time in front of the television you may end up with a child that has behavioral problems and learning difficulties, so use it sparingly.
ABC News. (2011). Is SpongeBob Making Your Kid Stupid?. ABC News. Retrieved 14 July 2015, from abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/watching-spongebob-makes-preschoolers-slower-thinkers-study-finds/story?id=14482447
Kff.org,. (2015). Zero to Six: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers – Report. Retrieved 14 July 2015, from kff.org/other/report/zero-to-six-electronic-media-in-the/
Med.umich.edu,. (2015). Television (TV) and Children: Your Child: University of Michigan Health System. Retrieved 14 July 2015, from med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/tv.htm
Parentingscience.com,. (2015). The effects of television on language skills. Retrieved 14 July 2015, from parentingscience.com/effects-of-television-on-children-learning-speech.html