Despite Recommendations, TV Now a Major Part of Children's Lives
> 5/9/2007 3:01:28 PM

A new survey on children's TV watching habits made headlines earlier this week by reporting that 40% of three-month-olds and 90% of two-year-olds watch television regularly. These statistics fly directly in the face of The American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations, which call for a total media blackout for all children under the age of two. Beyond just watching TV however, researchers also found that a fifth of those from 6 months to 2 years old, and more than a third of children 3 to 6 years old have televisions in their bedrooms, which means that at least some of the TV viewing is in fact unsupervised.

In speaking with Newsweek, the study's lead author Frederick Zimmerman, addressed the question of why so many parents are comfortable ignoring the AAP's recommendations on TV when they wouldn't dare ignore other recommendations:

Many parents have accepted the guidelines on vaccinations and no spanking. But television and other forms of media are different. Most parents don't believe that TV is potentially dangerous to their children at such a young age. These are parents—roughly ages 25 to 35—who grew up with TV in the household and they seemed to be very comfortable using TV in their parenting. Plus, marketers of infant-directed programming have been much more successful than the academic community in getting their message out to parents that their products are supposedly helpful. But there is no research that says television viewing through the first months and the first few years of life is beneficial.

Like many things, TV is probably not as bad as some would make it sound, nor as harmless as others would have us believe, but the fact of the matter is that research has tied television viewing to various negative outcomes. Reading ability, bullying, social isolation and, yes, autism, have all been tied to childhood television viewer-ship at one point or another. And in the end, what we need to leave this debate with is the understanding that, like most things in this world, TV is fine in moderation. It is when parents start allowing television time to replace reading time or begin using TV as a babysitter, that television stops becoming a diversion or source of entertainment and starts to become a nuisance or worse, a harmful force.

The AAP has advised parents to play it safe, and avoid all television for children under two years old. As Zimmerman told Newsweek, and her data showed, this seems to be an extreme position for many adults who grew up watching TV and don't view it as a potential threat to their children. For parents of the youngest children, 40% of which are apparently watching TV regularly, this trust in television's harmlessness might be ill-placed. Parents need to be aware that TV can be a negative force in the lives of children up through adolescence and the teen years. Teaching children about healthy watching habits and practices is important, not just from a content prospective, but also in terms of time limit and time of day. Replacing passive watching with active engagement like personal interaction, unstructured play-time or even board games makes more productive use of children's time in moving toward developmental markers, and some would argue will benefit children in the long run. There's no need to throw your TV out the window, but it wouldn't hurt to turn it off every once in a while, especially if you have young kids.

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