Think Outside the Box

How to turn off the TV and take back your family life.

Katie Summers, a San Francisco area mother of three young girls, describes her 3-year-old daughter, Caroline, watching TV: "Caroline's seated back against the couch, eyes glued to the action, thumb sometimes in her mouth, with no expression, and she talks to no one."

Sound familiar? It does to me. I have to admit that it's a whole lot easier to prepare dinner, have a quiet cup of coffee, or read the Bible while my children are zoned out with Zaboomafoo. I do try to limit my kids' viewing and make sure they only see programs I approve of. But despite the proliferation of wholesome, educational, and entertaining children's shows, sitting our kids in front of the TV may not be as harmless as it seems.

The statistics are alarming. Each year, most children in the United States spend 1,500 hours in front of the television and only 33 hours in meaningful conversation with their parents. That's about four hours a day involved with television versus just over five minutes involved with parents. Many small children have a favorite television show. And it doesn't take much for a show or two a day, aimed at entertaining and educating a young child, to grow into a 1,500 hour per year habit. Clearly, even the best parents have a hard time reining in the TV monster.

Perhaps that's why the most recent recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is no TV for children under the age of 2. While this may seem extreme, Dr. Jeffrey J. Young, a pediatrician in Green Bay, Wisconsin, does not find it unreasonable. "This is such a critical time of development for children," he says. "An hour of television is an hour that could have been spent in a developmentally appropriate activity." The AAP further recommends that children under the age of 4 be limited to one hour of total screen viewing time per day—that includes television, computer, and video games.

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May 25

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