Using the box - for better and for worse
It’s rare to find parents who don’t rely on the TV every now and then to keep their kids occupied while they get on with something. But in some families, the box is never off and it serves as a square metal child minder.
Research on the effects of TV on kids suggests that children who watch too much of it are at a higher risk of obesity because of the tendency to snack on junk food while watching, combined with a lack of exercise because they’re glued to the screen. Kids who may be watching it late at night are more likely to have difficulty with schoolwork, probably due to inadequate sleep. It can also be a solitary habit that takes the place of spending time with family and socialising with friends.
Kids who watch too much TV are more likely to be overweight and have difficulty with schoolwork; it also takes them away from socialising with family and friends
But it’s important to keep in mind that while TV is generally overused and misused, it’s not inherently evil – in fact, it’s a tool which can be good or bad depending on whether you use it appropriately. As a researcher, paediatrician, parent, and media expert I want to share what I consider to be 10 common mistakes that parents make regarding TV and their kids. Here are the 7 things to watch out for…
1. Feeling guilty
Most parents have concerns about their child’s viewing and many feel guilty about it. If you feel this way it might well suggest TV is playing too much of a role in your child’s life – but worrying about it isn’t going to solve the problem. Many parents react to their guilt by simply ignoring the issue because they feel powerless to address it. Their shame hampers their ability to be thoughtful about their kids’ media usage. Don’t feel bad or guilty about TV – you’re not a bad parent for letting your child watch it. But use it wisely.
2. TV dinners…
Kids love to eat while they watch TV, and far too many parents indulge this desire with junk food. Snacking while viewing is one of the major ways that TV can contribute to making kids overweight. If you do let your kids eat while they view, opt for healthy snacks such as carrots and apples, in appropriate quantities.
3. Quality, not quantity
Although many kids do watch too much TV, what they watch is just as important. Be selective about what they’re seeing and educate them about it too – especially when it comes to advertisements. Don’t give into pester power if they’ve seen something they want advertised on the box. Let them know how you feel about the products that are being marketed, be firm and encourage them to be strong enough to resist.
4. Watching alone
Too many kids watch TV without parental supervision or involvement – and there is a lot of unsuitable programming your kids can access if you aren’t monitoring them. Watching with your child improves the beneficial effects of positive programs and decreases the harmful effects of negative ones. Resist any demands your child might make for a TV in his bedroom – children with their own TVs watch more of it and you won’t be able to check what he’s viewing.
5. Missing teachable moments
Take the opportunities TV provides to reinforce positive messages and discuss negative portrayals. Even at its worst, TV provides ample chances to broach discussions about sex, violence, alcohol and drug use.
6. Setting a bad example
Practise what you preach! Be selective about what you watch – switch on the box only if there’s actually a programme you want to see; don’t idly channel surf.
7. Mindless viewing
Think about TV as you watch. Know that it is a medium that has a point of view – and teach your children to do likewise.