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Is it okay to let my kids watch TV?

“Do you let your kids watch TV?” is one of the most loaded questions we, as parents, ask each other. We hear snippets in the news about TV making kids turn into zombies with no ability to concentrate in school, socialize, or entertain themselves. We hear parents swearing they will not expose their children to TV, and feel ashamed to admit that we can’t imagine life without it! We wonder how the heck to get dinner on the table (or just sit down to think for a moment) without turning on the tube. And really, is Sesame Street so harmful after all

Your question led me to seek out a television research expert. Frederick J. Zimmerman, PhD, is one of the foremost researchers in the field. He is a Director of the Child Health Institute at the University of Washington, and co-author of The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Kids. Dr. Zimmerman gave me permission to quote his very interesting book. Page four says, "Parents should not feel guilty, powerless or even indifferent about television, however; its effects need not be adverse, and they are most certainly remediable. Television viewing can be beneficial. It can be entertaining, broadening, and educational. It just has to be used properly." The authors go on to describe the most important issues in TV-watching for kids:
  • What is being watched? Content matters. 
  • How much is being watched? Amount matters.
What is the context in which TV is being watched? The rest of the child’s life and environment matters.

The book also explains that this new age of DVRs and TiVos is terrific for kid TV-watching, since it allows us to zip out the commercials and other negative stuff we don’t need them to see. As far as the BabyShrink’s house goes… we do watch TV, but I am pretty strict about what we watch. I agree that the content of the shows is so important…..and that’s what worries me most, not a Little Einstein or a Super Why or Miss Spider. But the Sponge Bob type stuff is a little too fast-moving, hectic and aggressive for me, and I think it can have an effect on the younger kids, especially. I am all in favor of using TV when you need a break to make dinner, but obviously it shouldn’t be a long-term babysitter. (I know you’re not doing that.) Really, it should be in moderation; make sure they are getting physical outside play every day; the TV content should be as benevolent as possible; and then don’t feel guilty about it!!
Sheila Dunnells
Addiction Medicine
Children today not only have TV, they have computers, iPhones, iPads, Facebook, Twitter, IM'ing, Xboxes, etc. all meant to entertain and distract. An important question a parent should ask is, "How much time is my child spending with interactive-computer/ phone based entertainment?"

I think it is important to limit the use of devices that do not have much educational value. Children, by the time they reach first grade, have been so stimulated in color that school, which is black and white, is boring.

Reading, playing with toys, engaging other children, riding bikes, doing puzzles-- activities that improve the brain and encourage learning relationship skills are so important.

Plus, children should also learn delayed gratification, if you want the child to be successful in school, and life. While it would be nice if we got everything we wanted, when we wanted it, it is not reality. Many children, who are never asked to work quietly, wait for a parent's attention, share, or behave, end up labeled ADD or ADHD. What, in fact, they are suffering from is BRAT Syndrome, which is learned behavior.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 do not watch television. There are multiple studies that show that it does not help with brain development and actually can cause some harm to children's brains over time, as far as having learning disabilities or possibly developing attention deficit disorder.

When you do allow your child to watch television, it is recommended that they watch age-appropriate television that is not violent and that does not contain information that is inappropriate for their age. Also, keep in mind as they get older, it's important to let them explore their world and be active, so it's recommended that you actually allow your child to watch less than 2 hours of television per day.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.