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Is Your Child Watching Too Much TV?

Sally Robinson and Keith Bly, Contributors
Galveston Daily News
November 3, 2010

By the time an average child finishes high school, he or she will have spent thousands of hours in front of the TV. Today, many pediatricians believe excessive television viewing by youngsters reinforces such destructive behaviors as alcohol abuse and cigarette smoking. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children younger the age of 2 don’t watch TV. This recommendation is based on the impact TV has on your child’s brain development.

Early viewing is lined with the following:

  • Increase in attention problems;
  • Higher risk for obesity, poor social development and aggressive behavior; and
  • Television watching is addictive. The more you see the more you want.

According to a study published in Pediatrics (the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics), television and other media represent one of the most important and under recognized influences on child and adolescent health.

“American media contribute more to adverse health outcomes than to positive or pro-social ones,” according to authors from the University of Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Young people average 16 to 17 hours of television viewing weekly, beginning as early as 2, the article states.

When computer games, movies, Facebook usage are added, some teenagers may spend as many as 35 to 55 hours in front of the screen.

Citing more than 150 references, the authors note the following:

  • Young people view an estimated 10,000 violent acts each year.

A recent National Television Violence Study examined nearly 10,000 hours of television programming in a three-year period and found that 61 percent contained violence, with children’s programming being the most violent.

  • Each year, teenagers view nearly 15,000 sexual references, innuendoes and jokes of which less than 170 will deal with abstinence, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy.

The so-called family hour of prime time television (between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.) contains more than eight sexual incidents per hour, more than four times as many as in 1976.

  • Alcohol, tobacco or illicit drugs are present in 70 percent of prime time network dramatic programs, 38 out of 40 top-grossing movies and half of all music videos.

For every “just say no” or “know when to say when” public service announcement, teens will view 25 to 50 beer and wine advertisements.

Tobacco manufacturers spend $6 billion per year, and alcohol manufacturers $2 billion per year in all media, trying to entice young people into just saying yes.

Many solutions exist, from developing new ways to regulate the media (governmental role) to improving the product itself (entertainment industry’s role).

All TVs made since 2000 have a v-chip. This enables all TV programs except news and sports to have a TV rating system know as the TB Parental Guideline. The ratings appear for 15 seconds at the start of the program.

Parents also play a key role in a child’s television-viewing experience. We don’t recommend TV sets in children’s bedrooms as it promotes unsupervised television watching.

Here are some additional things you can do:

  • Watch television with your child and discuss the program and commercial content;
  • Always be aware of what your youngster watches;
  • Restrict overall TV viewing;
  • Set limits of one to two hours per day;
  • No TV while doing homework;
  • Look for quality children’s DVDs; and
  • Set a good example by limiting your own TV.

The authors of the study conclude, “Children and teenagers comprise a captive audience for entertainment producers, but they also represent the next and only source of adults in American society. As such, they deserve far better than what they are being exposed to now.”

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.





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