Your kids squabbled in the back seat all the way home despite your shouting at them to knock it off. You have a blinding headache and you’re exhausted from a trying day. It’s past everyone’s customary dinner hour and you want to prepare and serve something in a hurry. What do you do?
You hand your children a snack and plunk them down in front of the TV, of course. But then as you search for the Ibuprofen and whatever it is you’re going to cook for dinner, you may feel guilty, because for years you’ve heard TV being demonized. Everyone knows that TV-viewing turns children into overweight, dim-witted thugs. You also suppose you ought to be talking to the kids about their behavior in the car right now.
A Little Television is not a Dangerous Thing
But you need to cook dinner and they need to unwind. Just look at them over there, their tears and anger forgotten, happily sharing their snack, staring at the screen, the tensions of the day almost visibly leaving their small bodies as they relax into each other and the contours of their favorite TV-viewing couch.
The TV may seem an overwhelmingly seductive and dangerous presence sometimes, but it isn’t in control here, you are. You don’t let your children go to bed whenever they please, or play with whomever and wherever they please, and turning on the TV doesn’t mean you’re abandoning them to watch whatever appears on the screen for as long as they please.
Just Keep in Mind These Simple Guidelines
- Whenever your child watches a program for the first time, watch it with him, so you can judge its appropriateness and also explain puzzling or troubling parts.
- Avoid anything scary – what is scary varies from child to child, of course, but even what seems benign to you might be terribly unsettling for a child. Your child may insist that a program isn’t frightening him when in fact he’s truly alarmed. Children as old as six can be confused and frightened by what they see on TV. Remain vigilant.
- Watch your child’s behavior after viewing a program that might have been alarming to him; children often cannot articulate that they found a show disturbing, but if they seem agitated or have trouble calming down afterward, that could be a clue.
- Preferably choose public television stations where the programs are not perpetually interrupted by commercials, thus frustrating the children’s attention spans and fostering greed and gluttony to boot. Maybe Mr. Rogers re-runs seem slow and dull to you, but they’re just right for a 3-year-old.
- Limit the amount of time your children spend watching TV; many pediatricians recommend a one-hour-per-day rule. They also recommend no TV at all for infants under the age of one.
Television is not to Blame
Television doesn’t create violent urges in children; those are already there, in all of us. TV can certainly stimulate those urges, but it is not to blame for them. Your task isn’t to feel guilty and helpless about the inevitability of your children’s becoming TV addicts and hence fat, stupid, and violent, but to monitor and limit what they watch. A reasonable amount of appropriate TV watching will not harm your children. They might even learn something from it, and they probably will calm down in front of it.
Dinner is almost ready and they’re cuddled up together on the couch the best of friends, peace restored. What could be bad about that?
Then after everyone has full bellies and your headache has disappeared, you might bring up all that yelling at one another in the car coming home. What was that all about, anyway? What could we have done or said differently to settle that dispute? Did something else happen earlier in the day (in school or day care, perhaps) that had one of us upset already?
And then if your children have already used up their hour of TV viewing, suggest a quiet game or bedtime story to end the day. After everyone is settled for the night, go ahead and watch one of your own favorite programs. A little television isn’t going to hurt you, either.
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