Watching TV is a double-edged sword. There are so many educational, informative and important shows to watch that banning TV seems criminal. Yet, what is truly criminal is the amount of violence, inappropriate language and just plain awful shows that it makes a parent want to put the TV on the front lawn for the garbage men to pick up.
The TV has become a babysitter for busy parents. Kids are content to spend hours watching absurd programs without complaint while the parents make dinner, clean the house and do the laundry. In the United States, kids watch an average of four hours of TV a day, that is double the recommended amount by the American Academy of Pediatrics. That is a lot of TV! Consider that children in grade one through twelve are only in school learning for an average of five hours a day, they spend almost as much time in front of the mindless TV as they do in front of a teacher.
You can pull your children away from the clutches of the TV with a bit of planning and setting the tone of television watching as a reward, not an expectation.
- First, rearrange your house. Take the TVs out of their bedrooms, away from the kitchen and dining room tables and into one centralized play area where you can keep an eye on what they are watching. Next, unplug the cable or satellite connection to that TV and connect the old VCR or, easier, the DVD player. Now you have control over what they watch. Now, in either your office or bedroom, hook a DVD recorder (or another VCR) onto the TV and begin recording the educational television shows your children enjoy. They can now watch these shows in their playroom for a couple of hours a day.
- In that same playroom put games, puzzles, a drawing table with coloring books and paper, books and kid’s magazines so they have alternatives to the TV.
- Guaranteed, you are going to get complaints about them missing their favorite shows though and you do not want them to see this new TV routine as a punishment. Let them know that if they finish their chores and homework, they can watch what they like (within reason) for a specific amount of time on the TV in your bedroom or office. Make them realize they must earn the right however -TV is a privilege now and also, because they are in your bedroom or office, they also must behave themselves because if they do not, the privilege is revoked immediately
- Try a ban on watching TV during the week or every other day. This will help foster hobbies outside of the TV that may become regular activities.
- Watch TV with your children. Pick TV shows that are appropriate for their ages that also interest you and spend the time with them.
- Talk to them about what it is they want to watch and why. Watch some of the shows with them so that you know exactly what is filling their little heads and discuss the show with them afterwards.
- Last, try to avoid TV shows that have a running storyline through them as this can become a bit of an addiction we have all been glued to season finales that kept us hooked on the show until next season (who remembers who shot JR? The hype throughout the summer on that one was ridiculous! Thankfully kids shows do not have that level of ‘cliffhanger’ ever!).
However, the most important thing is setting a good example. If they see you watching TV constantly or the TV on while you are doing chores, they will pick up the same habit. Many of us catch up on news while making dinner which is fine, that is relevant information but once it is over, turn the TV off and leave it off. If you want to relax after dinner, go for a walk with the kids, grab a good book or pull out a jigsaw puzzle. Do something other then vegetating in front of the television you will be happier for it at the end of the day.