What's for dinner? In many households, the answer is "television."
A recent Harvard Medical School study of 16,000 children found about 17 percent of those studied never ate dinner with their families only did so on some days. A good number indicated that they often eat in separate rooms watching television or playing video games.
Individual family members watching their different shows on multiple televisions, playing video games, and browsing the internet have added to the sense of isolation many kids have. In most American households, the television is on all the time that people are awake in the house and the activities of the household are directed and controlled by the television. Since television is basically a commercial vehicle, this means we have turned over the control of our family life to advertisers! We are being entertained to death.
While we don't advocate tossing the tube in the trash, we do advocate that parents take back control of family life. The television should be a servant, not a master.
Taking back control means changing habits that may be deeply ingrained in your own behavior. Most parents today grew up on television themselves and the "boob tube" has been a daily part of their lives. Parents often need to reassess their own TV watching practices, and take control of their own viewing habits. Remember, children learn far more from what they see you do than from what you say!
Harvard School of Public Health: Research Highlights Ways Parents Can Reduce Children's TV Viewing Time
- Do not allow children (even teens) to have TV in their bedroom.
- Make family rules about TV and stick to them. Start off setting the rules, but gradually allow the child to be involved in setting the rules.
- Watch TV with your child
- Select TV programs in advance with your child - viewing should be planned.
- Use a TV program guide instead of flipping through channels with a remote control
- Set limits on TV viewing time -- hours per day, when TV should be turned off)
- Beware of tendency to use TV as a baby-sitter.
- When you must use TV as a baby-sitter, choose a program or videotape for your child as carefully as you would select a babysitter.
- Turn TV off during mealtime. Talk to each other! Make it a daily ritual.
- Be a role model -- review at your own viewing habits
- Help your child separate what is real and what is not real on TV
- Visit a TV studio or show children books about TV production. Watch "behind the scenes" programs that show how stunts and special effects are done, emphasize how fake the action and stunts are.
- Do not allow your child to watch programs you strongly oppose and explain why to your child.
- If you are watching a program that shows a violent act, talk to your child about other ways to solve problems without hurting others.
- Watch cartoons carefully and talk about how different real life is
- Watch commercials with your child. Help them to identify what is being sold and how, talk about exaggerated or misleading claims.
- "Store" your TV out of sight to instill the concept that TV viewing is a special, intentional activity. Placing the TV in a cabinet, a closet or behind a curtain are simple ways to signal to your child and family that TV will not dominate your home.
Children's Hospital of Iowa: Guide for Parents
The New Citizen: How can parents control their child's TV viewing
Parents' Source: How to Use Television to Your Children's Advantage
Child Development Institute: Television and Children
The Family Works: Guilt-Free TV