The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that American kids are watching too much TV. The AAP recommends that parents limit screen time (including computer, video game, and TV use) to no more than an hour or two of quality programming daily. But if your child is flopped in front of the tube for hours every day, cutting back might seem like a monumental task.
To find out more about how much TV kids are really watching and what stands in parents' way of enforcing TV rules, researchers from the Annenberg Public Policy Center, RTI International, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) interviewed 180 kids and their parents in 2004.
Participants completed a survey on the number of TVs and computers in their homes; where they were located; and how much time they spent watching TV, using computers, and playing video games daily. In addition, parents and older kids participated in group interviews and answered questions about daily media use and rules for using media on weekdays and weekends. The kids and parents also offered their opinions on strategies for cutting back on media use.
On average, families in the survey had four working TVs at home — 98% had TVs in the living room, 63% had TVs in a child's bedroom, and nearly half had a TV in the kitchen or dining room. Most of the kids reported watching about 3 hours of TV daily.
Almost all of the parents restricted the content of the shows their kids watched, but few had rules about how much time kids spent watching TV. About half the parents used TV as a reward for completed tasks or homework. Some also restricted TV when kids misbehaved, performed poorly in school, or failed to do chores.
When the experts discussed the recommendation to limit screen time to no more than 2 hours with parents, most parents said they thought the 2-hour time limit was reasonable. However, many reported that cutting back on TV time meant less time for them to complete their own chores or work and would require them to spend substantial time keeping kids occupied. Others reported feeling reluctant to stick to the 2-hour limit because it would mean reducing their own TV use.
What This Means to You
The results of this study suggest that for a variety of reasons, parents may be reluctant to limit children's TV viewing. However, keep in mind that watching too much TV is a bad habit with consequences. Excessive television time can adversely affect kids' school performance, attention, and weight.
To limit your child's screen time, try these strategies suggested by the study authors:
- Pay attention to how much time your kids spend on all media. The 2-hour limit suggestion applies to computers, video games, movies, and TV; the combined time for all media activities shouldn't exceed 2 hours.
- Don't put a TV set in your child's bedroom.
- Eliminate background television. Don't turn on the TV just for noise — use a radio or CD instead.
- Limit TV on schooldays.
- Don't put a TV in eating areas, such as the kitchen or dining room.
- Find fun family activities that don't involve TV. Ask your kids to come up with a list or visit www.tvturnoff.org for some ideas.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2006
Source: Amy B. Jordan, PhD; James C. Hersey, PhD; Judith A. McDivitt, PhD; Carrie D. Heitzler, MPH; Pediatrics, November 2006.