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Health & Parenting

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Is TV Really So Bad for Kids?

Is TV Really So Bad for Kids?

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For many parents, the hectic pace and non-stop demands of day-to-day living have made monitoring their family's television habits a low priority. Even some of the tools available to help them -- from the TV ratings system to the V-chip -- are widely underutilized.

"Many parents simply don't understand the ratings," says developmental psychologist Douglas Gentile, PhD, director of research at the National Institute on Media and the Family. Not only is there an alphabet soup of rating codes that can be difficult to decipher, but, adds Gentile, "Every network rates its own programs, and very often, the ratings are more lenient than the parents themselves would be."

The V-chip (for viewer-controlled) appears to be underused as well. Since January 2000, all new television sets with 13-inch or larger screens include a device that allows parents to block programs they don't want their children to watch.

But a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 53% of parents who had bought TVs since early 2000 knew nothing about the V-chip; only 17% of parents whose TV was equipped with the chip used the device to filter out undesirable programs.

"To me, the 'V' in V-chip stands for 'vanished,'" says Brody. "I hear nothing about it. There appears to be a much lower level of advocacy regarding TV violence than there was two or three years ago."

Cantor concurs, noting that although the V-chip is a step in the right direction, "it has lots of strikes against it. Because publicity for it has been very poor, many parents don't realize that they have a V-chip in their TV set, or they're not informed on how to use it. The V-chip is not that easy to program, and many parents get frustrated trying to use it."

Risks and Benefits

Even if you're conscientious about using the TV ratings system as a guide, keep in mind that news programs remain unrated, although they report on plenty of events -- from crime to natural disasters -- that can cause anxiety and fear in children.

"Many parents don't understand that the news is very powerful," says Cantor. "They need to think twice about having on the TV news when their children are around, even if the kids don't seem to be paying attention to it. A lot of parents think, 'This is educational, and kids need to know what's going on in the world.' But TV doesn't give the news in an age-appropriate fashion for kids."

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