How Much Television Is Too Much Television For Children?

How many hours per day do your children watch television? What sort of programs do you allow them to watch? Do you closely monitor what they are watching, or do you do as many parents do and allow the television to be your children’s babysitter while you’re busy doing other things? And most importantly, how do you determine how much television is too much television for children?

There are many worthwhile, beneficial and educational programs on TV for children to enjoy. Not only can children see how other people live around the world, they can learn about other cultures, basically travel the world while sitting in the comfort of their own home. Children can learn their alphabet and numbers, learn about wildlife and nature, learn how to read well and improve their math skills, along with other vitally important subjects. Nevertheless, too much of even a good thing can be hazardous to your health, or the health and wellbeing of your children.

I’ve noticed over the last several years that neighborhoods with many young children seem to have become virtual ghost towns. I rarely see children out riding their bikes, playing with their friends, throwing a football, playing “hide and seek”, or playing in the neighborhood park, even during the best weather days. I’ve often wondered if parents are “encouraging” their children to play inside the house due to fear that their child will be snatched off the street by some pervert, perhaps never to be seen again. Rarely a week goes by where I’m not hearing the Amber Alert siren on the radio, notifying everyone within listening range of another kidnapped or missing child. I wonder if some parents, subconsciously or consciously, choose for their children to be entertained inside their homes with the television set, DVD’s or videotapes, computers and video games due to fear?

Even my niece’s eight year-old son rarely plays outside, and it’s not for the lack of neighborhood friends. Questioning his mother as to why this is the case results in a multitude of excuses such as, “he prefers to play video games and watch movies” or “I’m too tired after getting home from work to keep an eye on him playing outside”.

How much television is too much television for children?

Children need to be moving, need to be active, need to run and jump and play. They need opportunities to develop their cognitive, physical, social and emotional skills. Spending too much time watching television, or other mind-numbing activities, is hazardous to children’s health for many reasons. Consider some statistics of television viewing habits of children these days:

  • Research shows that children and teens spend nearly four hours each and every day watching television.
  • Add to that an extra 1.5 hours of television viewing for children and teens with televisions in their bedrooms.
  • 70% of child-care centers use TV as a means to entertain children during a typical day.
  • At the end of just one year, the average child has spent 900 hours attending school, and more than 1,203 hours sitting in front of the television set.
  • The TV is usually kept on during meals in 63% of households, with 53% admitting to having “no rules” about television watching. 51% of households feel it’s normal for the television to be “kept on most of the time“.
  • Many parents feel it’s normal for the television to act as a “babysitter” while parents are busy cooking meals, cleaning the house, paying the bills, leaving the children unsupervised in front of the TV set.
  • TV watching has replaced other activities children used to engage in, such as: playing with friends, reading, doing homework or chores, being physically active, playing sports or other extracurricular activities.
  • Children who spend excessive amounts of time watching television are at risk of gaining weight, obesity, poor sleep patterns, behavioral problems, increase of violent behaviors, poor grades and other risk factors.

When my own children were growing up, the TV was not on during meals. It was a time for us to sit together and enjoy pleasant conversation, as well as have discussion about school and upcoming events. I made a habit of lighting candles on the dinner table, which helped immensely to set the mood for a calm and enjoyable meal as a family. No arguments, complaints or whining was permitted.

I also did not allow my children to watch television shows such as “South Park”, or other shows depicting children behaving and speaking in a disrespectful manner to any authority figure. My children didn’t even know what shows like MTV or VH1 were until they were grown and out of the house. Believe it or not, when I would leave for work in the mornings and my children headed for school, the television cord was safely hidden to “parts unknown” until I got home and had the opportunity to choose what television show, if any, would be watched as a family.

Children should read more

All of my children are excellent readers, and they all enjoy reading even to this day. Their Christmas wish for this year was to once again have many of the Disney cartoon movies they recall us watching when they were all little. That’s all they wanted, and that’s what they’ll get. Ah the memories. Despite all the hardships that accompanied raising six children in a single-parent home, I must have done something right.

Do you monitor your children’s television viewing habits? What are your thoughts as to how much television is too much television for children?

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19 Responses to “How Much Television Is Too Much Television For Children?”

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  1. Lin says:

    James, I agree lawmakers need to make the laws and punishments much stronger for those who hurt children. If the gangs haven’t taken over neighborhoods, it appears the pedophiles are now holding families and children virtual hostages in their own homes.

    I also agree that parents ultimately are the ones responsible for making it safe for kids to play outside, providing kids opportunities to play outside, as well as watching them to ensure safety. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Mike Lanza says:

    I wrote an article a couple of months ago entitled, “Is Driving Your Kids Around Safer Than Letting Them Roam Outside on Their Own?”

    The answer to the question is an emphatic “NO.” Roughly three times as many children die in a year as passengers in automobile accidents than die in “roaming” incidents – i.e. the sum total of stranger abductions, pedestrian accidents, and bicycle accidents.

    Mike Lanza’s last blog post..Why is it a Good Idea for Adults to Control Kids? Sports?

  3. Rockdirt says:

    Well depending on the content of course 5 minutes could be too much. I don’t think a few hours is a big deal if it is educational and interactive. As long as you encourage exercise, the few hours watching the tube could prevent them doing something else worse… like breaking stuff, or getting hurt themselves.

    Rockdirt’s last blog post..Angels & Airwaves On ESPN New Year’s Eve

  4. ChampDog says:

    I think the virtual world such as second life makes this issue even worst. But it looks like this is the trend now.

    ChampDog’s last blog post..Hate Your Job but Quitting Is Not an Option

  5. BMS says:

    Our household does not currently have a TV. We watch maybe 1 movie a week as a family (using our computer monitor hooked up to the DVD or VCR). The kids almost never ask to watch anything, unless someone is sick or we’ve been stuck inside due to bad weather for several days. It’s not like we yanked it away from them saying “No, you cannot watch this evil device!!” It’s just not part of our every day routine. It just does not occur to us to watch something most days.

    I have to laugh sometimes, because many people have said “Oh, that will all change once they get to school” Well, they’re in 1st grade and kindergarten, and somehow their lack of TV and video games has not turned them into social pariahs. I think they’ll live.

  6. sassauce says:

    I grew up without TV in the house. But not wholly without TV.
    When I would go over to a friends’ house, they would always have to ask to put the TV on. Usually they had a deal with their parents: select a show in the TV guide, watch it and then shut the TV down again.
    I’m expecting a baby and I am planning to think up some rules like that. No unsupervised TV until he is in school, for sure…
    The first years at university, by the way, I noticed that I couldn’t do anything else when the TV is on. It still isn’t quite a routine thing for me and I get sucked in completely from time to time. We now occasionally have the TV on at dinner, when we’re really tired. I guess when the baby is here, he’ll be enough of a distraction… What with trying to get food into his mouth and all.

  7. Lin says:

    BMS, sounds like it’s working well for your family. I like the idea to pick a month and have no television at all for that month. It’s amazing the things families can find to do together without the soap box on. Playing board games, Dominoes etc. When I was growing up, we used to play card games a lot, like Hearts, Spades, etc.

    sassause, you definitely will have your hands full with the new little one. Congratulations! It will also be a great opportunity to start your new one off without tv as the babysitter as he/she grows.


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