Help! My Child Watches Too Much TV.

Television is a fact of life, and there are few families that don’t have one, or that never watch one. Television can also be educational, informative, and uplifting. But, let’s face it – the vast majority of what is shown on TV is pure drivel – it is far from uplifting or educational, and often portrays behavior that would be quite unacceptable in most social circles. Even worse, it often portrays that behavior as normal, or even desirable.

Besides the garbage that is fed into your child, television eats into the time your child would have otherwise spent in physical activity or in meaningful conversation. Watching television has turned normal healthy individuals into ‘couch potatoes’ since it is a largely passive and solitary activity that is detrimental to healthy social behavior.

That television influences behaviors is evident from the billions of dollars spent on advertisements. It is the sheer repetition of it that works on the minds of people and comes to surface at the time of making choices.

Ask any parent and they would most likely want to throw the television out of the window, but that doesn’t serve the purpose. You can’t throw the baby with the bathwater. So, let’s be sensible about it and take positive steps to limit your child’s exposure to it. Here are some suggestions:

1. To begin with, you will need to cut down on your own TV watching. If you spend 4 hours a day watching soaps and other nonsense, you can’t expect your child to be selective and watch television in a limited time. Parents have to become good role models for their children. You can influence the impressionable minds of your children by setting good examples rather then by preaching to them.

2. If not TV then what? First for yourself, and then for your children, find alternative activities that are healthy and pro-social. The obvious ones are taking up some sports or hobbies – football, hockey, swimming, karate, dancing, painting, scrap-booking, collecting stamps, coins, or butterflies, model railways, woodworking or cross-stitch – the list is endless. But, yes, you actually have to DO something to make this work! If you really just want to relax and chill-out – what about reading a good novel, or even a graphical novel (aka comic book) while listening to your favorite music?

Take a visit to your local recreation center and/or adult education center and see what programs and classes they have on offer. Make a deal with your child that if he attends one of his choice you will offer some incentive.

3. Establish some baseline rules – eg. No TV before school, or after X pm, or during meals. Or maybe have a regular TV-free day: no TV on Tuesdays, for example.

4. Pre-schedule television – ie. People can only watch what has been pre-booked. This cuts out aimless channel surfing. Instead the family will have to look up the TV guide and find something that is actually worth watching.

5. You may want to use television time as a reward for other activities, such as completing household chores, or getting homework done. You will need to draw up some sort of chart to keep track of all this.

6. The best method of getting rid of all TV woes is to watch television together – and then initiate discussion on what you have viewed. This will help your child to evaluate the program and learn something from it. If you discuss the commercials, it will help your children to be less naive and gullible. As a family, you can figure out what tricks the advertisers play to make you want to buy their product. You know that most of the toys and foods don’t live up to the hype created around them.

7. Remember to be reasonable and fair while turning off the television. Wait till the show is over and give some reasonable warning.

8. You can nip the evil in the bud, so to say, if you stop subscribing to the expensive cable and satellite channels. You can spend the extra money for other activities. This gives you quality time with the family and helps you bond better. A family outing or a home-cooked pizza turns out to be much more fun than watching others do similar things on the screen.

Also, remember not to overdo it. Be selective. Find the good programs and watch them. The rest of the time, do something more active or more sociable. Very soon you will wonder how you and your kids ever found the time to watch so much of it.