Tip Sheets for Parents: TV Time and Your Children

According to the American Association of Pediatrics, children more than 2 years old should spend no more than 2 hours a day watching television. This means that it’s important to help children select good programs and appropriate times for TV watching.

Television can be a good way for children to wind down after playing outside or spending a full day at kindergarten. But the television should not always be a “babysitter” while parents or caretakers get other things done. Here are some tips for making television time a good time for you and your children.

TV tips and ideas adapted from the Parent Center at WholeFamily.com:

  • Set a TV schedule. Since time for television viewing is limited, your child has to make choices. This is an excellent way to help your children learn to set priorities. Schedules also help young children begin to grasp the concepts of "before" and "after" or "morning," "afternoon," and "evening."
  • Monitor TV programming quality. Even if you help your child pick out shows through a TV guide, you can’t be sure of the quality of the programs unless you watch them, too. Remember, not all cartoon shows are appropriate for young children. With older children, have them look for appropriate TV Parental Guideline symbols for the shows they would like to watch.
    • All children
    • Directed to older children
    • General audience
  • Provide alternative activities. Since you are limiting your child’s TV time, you need to have alternative activities available. Outdoor playtime is an excellent addition to the daily schedule. If it’s cold and rainy outside, have books, music, and arts and crafts items on hand. Or set a schedule for your child to work with you—setting the table, stirring the gelatin, or feeding the dog.
  • Watch TV with your children. Television programs can help your family discuss important ideas, learn new lessons, or reinforce academic concepts.
  • For example:

    • Look for positive role models in television programming—the child or cartoon animal who goes to bed on time or chooses to do the “right” thing.
    • During breaks, ask your child what he or she thinks will happen next. Then watch and discuss what does happen. Were you surprised? Why?
    • Make TV time interactive by having children jump if they hear a number or color word. Or sing along with the music together.

Finding out about a program before selecting a show to watch helps your child make an informed viewing choice. Focusing on character and plot before watching a program provides an opportunity to build reading skills. Talking about what might happen to a character helps children share their own feelings, fears, or creative ideas. All of these activities help develop “media literate” children who are aware of the media and how to use it. Check the PBS TV Schedule to see local programming schedules, summaries of each show, and links to available show Web sites.

Courtesy of Building Blocks for a Healthy Future. www.bblocks.samhsa.gov