Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Best of 2012: Superb Advice for Limiting TV Time, from Mindful Life

Too much television causing problems for your family? The following post from earlier this year may help.


Big Food has been aggressively marketing to children on television for decades, and, as I wrote about last month, the problem is now firmly entrenched online.

Here's an email I received yesterday from Mindful Life, "which provides brain-based solutions for today’s families as they try to manage the stresses of modern day parenting." Mindful Life's newsletters provide expert advice on a host of subjects (click here to subscribe), and yesterday's on television time highlights the dangers of television viewing and offers practical solutions.

As I know from many of my clients, getting our kids unhooked from junk food is difficult to do. I think following Mindful Life's advice in regard to limiting television time represents an important first step:

This time of year the lure of a warm couch, some hot cocoa, and a little TV time can often sound much more appealing than wrestling with your little ones to get them out the door, bundled for the cold winter weather.

Well, if your little one seems inattentive, demanding, anxious and down right bratty, the TV may be somewhat to blame.

According to research, the harmful effects of television viewing include difficulties with attention, aggression, worse performance in school, obesity, requests for advertised foods, and cultivation of materialistic values.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children over the age of two watch no more than 1 to 2 hours of television a day, a recent study shows that even a short period of time watching the wrong kind of show can have detrimental effects.

A group of 4-year-old children were the subject of a study published in the medical journal Pediatrics in September 2011. These 60 children were randomly assigned into three groups: one group watched SpongeBob Square Pants, the second group watched the slower-paced Caillou, and the third group was told to draw. They watched or drew for just nine minutes, and then they took mental function tests. The kids who watched SpongeBob did significantly worse on the tests than the other two groups.

The study shows that even very short-term exposure to this fast paced, over-stimulating television can cause measurable learning deficits. Common sense tells us that more exposure is likely to cause longer-lasting problems.

For young children time spent watching TV affects the way their brains are developing. Children need adequate time with caregivers, time for creative play, and opportunities to interact with peers in order to develop the higher level thinking areas of the brain. Time spent in front of the TV stimulates the areas of the brain related to the stress response, creating a more reactive, impulsive and inattentive child.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you find yourself reaching for the remote:

1) Do a TV cleanse. Unplug the cable for a week and see what it feels like. Replacing TV time with a little Pandora can change the entire feel of your house. Your kids will get along much better too!

2) Not all screen time is equal. Be mindful of what your kids are watching. If there is no educational value, if it isn't on PBS (for kids under 6), and if it gives you a headache, chances are your kids should not be watching it.

3) If they are going to watch, watch with them. Studies show when parents watch television with their children and reinforce educational aspects of the shows it improves the quality of the learning experience for the child.

4) Keep the TV out of their bedrooms. Children with TVs in their bedrooms are 1.3 times more likely to be overweight, and it becomes much more difficult to monitor what they watch. Keep all screen media (TVs & computers) in a central living area.

I'm the first to admit that there are days where nothing sounds better than to curl up on my couch in front of a movie, but it is important to be intentional about the role TV plays in your home. Block certain channels, watch together, or eliminate it all together.

You might be amazed by the creativity that emerges on the brink of boredom!

Kristen Race, Ph.D.
President & Founder
Mindful Life

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