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Turn Off That TV -- and the VCR, Computer, and Video Games!

WebMD Health News

April 30, 2001 -- Last week was TV Turn-Off Week -- and for good reason. The damaging effects that today's media have on kids have been well documented. But take heart, there are ways you can gain control of your family's TV viewing habits, says the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)

"The average kid is watching about 28 hours of TV every week, in addition to all the other media, like movies and video games," says Michael Brody, MD, chair of the AACAP's television and media committee and a child psychiatrist at University of Maryland in College Park.

In fact, much of children's media viewing takes place in kids' own bedrooms, outside of parents' supervision, says Amy Jordan, PhD, a senior researcher at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. "More than half of all kids have television sets in their bedrooms. One-fifth to one-quarter of all preschoolers have TVs in their rooms, and, of course, many are sharing with a sibling. "

Just as many kids have computers in their bedrooms -- 20% -- and 11% have Internet access. "Parents may think that computer access is educational, but research shows it's not at all clear that the computer -- particularly the way children use it -- is beneficial," Jordan tells WebMD.

The result: Developing children are absorbing all sorts of messages about violence, sexuality, and drug and alcohol abuse, says Brody. "Kids walk around with these violent voices in their heads, and they can't concentrate on their schoolwork. Studies have shown that kids who watch violent television or play violent video games get into more fist fights."

Also, too much couch time is making kids obese. "Commercials push the junk food," Brody tells WebMD. "They reinforce the message that kids should eat junk." Kids are also developing eye problems and carpal tunnel syndrome from hours with the hand on the joystick, she says.

And kids who watch lots of TV often have lower grades in school, likely because they're not doing their homework. They also read fewer books, according to the AACAP.

So what can you do?

Here are a few suggestions from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Don't make TV or video games off-limits. Let kids watch one or two hours a day -- at the most.
  • Let kids earn TV time if they also do something more active, like playing basketball or getting involved in a school club.
  • Praise them when they do something besides watch TV.
  • Limit your own TV viewing time.
  • Videotape educational programs for family viewing.
  • Don't put a TV in a child's bedroom.

Make your child's TV time more productive, says Brody. "Watch it with them -- even if you don't like what you're seeing. That's an opportunity to explain things to kids."

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