U.S. children aged 2 to 11 spend an average of 117 hours per month watching television.
I think that’s a staggering statistic, and one that bears repeating: kids in the U.S. aged 2 to 11 spend an average of 117 hours out of every month watching TV.
That’s 29 hours per week!
To put it into perspective, an adult with a full time job spends about 160 hours per month working for a living. Compared to that figure, America’s children have a 3/4 time job just watching TV.
Let’s do some quick math on this television addiction:
With 24 hours in each day, and an average of 30 days per month, that works out to a total of 720 hours in each month.
So out of the total hours per month, children are spending over 16% of their lives in front of a TV.
Subtracting an average of 8 hours per day for sleep (which may be higher for kids), then the total number of hours in the month is only about 480, which means that kids are spending an average of 25% of their waking hours watching television.
If you think that having your children spend a quarter of their lives watching TV is just fine and dandy, then you’ll want to stop reading right here. But if that bugs you, and you want to keep your kids from watching too much TV, then read on, because the answer is quite simple.
Before we begin, I think I need to mention one of the ground rules of parenting:
You’re the parent, they are the child. You are in charge, they are not. You set the rules and the examples, and they follow them.
With that in mind, the question of “How do I keep my children from watching too much television?” falls right in line with some other common questions from parents, such as, “How do I keep my kids from eating too much junk food?”
It really is simple. Don’t let them watch TV whenever they want. And in a similar vein, don’t buy them junk food, and don’t let them eat it.
I can already hear some of you protesting that it’s not that simple. My answer to that is that perhaps (with the best of intentions), you have let your child rule your house. And you need to take back the role of the parent from them. Yes, I understand that we want to give our children what they want, and that it can be easier to give in to their demands or tantrums than it is to lay down the law. But every time we do, we set up an expectation in our children that they will get what they want if they just scream loud enough.
Early in our marriage, we made a conscious decision to not watch TV, and if it wasn’t for the fact that we did sometimes enjoy watching movies on videotape, we would have gotten rid of our TV right then. And after acquiring a computer, we did give away our televison, because we could get movies on DVD from our local library, as well as through Netflix. So our kids have grown up without a TV, and we’ve never missed it one single bit.
The process of cutting out television (or cutting down the amount watched) for kids who have grown up with easy access to one might seem much more difficult than if it was never introduced to them, but I believe that if it’s important to you that your kids increase their outside play time, or their reading time, or any other meaningful activity, then you’ll find a way.
Here are a couple of suggestions to get you started:
How to keep your kids from watching too much television
- Get rid of it. Seriously. Or get rid of all of them except one (applies to families with several TVs).
- Talk to them. Explain why you don’t want them watching unlimited television, and begin having conversations with them about aspects of TV that don’t jive with your values (violence, stereotyping, sex, the huge amounts of advertising on TV).
- Make it tough to watch unlimited TV. If they have a TV in their room, remove it. If your TV is the centerpiece of your living room, then cover it up when you aren’t using it. Unplug the damn thing. Put it in your own bedroom, so they need permission to watch it.
- Set time limits on television watching. What’s OK for your kids? 1 hour a day? Less? Only on the weekends?
- Cancel your cable or satellite subscription. At the very least, cut it back to the minimal number of channels. Nobody needs to have access to all of the channels all of the time.
- Set a good example. How much TV do you watch each day? How often do your kids see you parked in front of the boob tube? The example that we as parents set for our children is a powerful thing, and if they see us watching tons of TV, while their own watching is restricted, we’re setting them up for the old “Do as I say, not as I do” program.
- Give your kids lots of choices of alternative activities. Get them their own library card. Get more board games. Buy lots of Legos. Pull out all of their outdoor play stuff and put it in one place – make it easy for them to grab a ball or a frisbee, sidewalk chalk, a bucket and shovel, their bicycle or skateboard.
- Sit down and play with them. Engage in activities with your children which require some thinking, or some action, or some creativity.
Remember, you’re in charge. Don’t let your kids parent you.
More info on TV and kids:
- Television & Health
- TV and Kids under Age 3
- American Academy of Pediatrics on Media
- Kill Your Television
Image: chefranden at Flickr