How much TV is too much for kids? Mrs. Brooke

Joy Brooke - Contributed photo
Joy Brooke
— image credit: Contributed photo

Dear Mrs. Brooke,

My child loves TV and I know too much TV is not good for kids. He is beginning to struggle in reading and I have been debating whether to do away with the TV altogether. What do you suggest or do you have any guidelines for families to follow? Do you believe in no TV at all?

Thank you.

A parent of a TV lover


Dear parent of a TV lover,

You are not alone in asking this question. Children under the age of six watch an average of two hours a day (Moses, 2006). The average child watches three to four hours of TV a day (Statistical Abstracts, 2013). This number does not include video games and other forms of screen time. By age eight, 71 percent of children not only live in a home with three televisions but also had a TV in their bedroom, which added an additional hour of viewing (Trelease, 2013). According to my research, this rate increases as a child grows.

You are right in stating too much TV is not good for kids. We know TV can have many harmful affects on a child’s life. Excessive TV viewing decreases physical activity, develops unhealthy eating habits, lowers school performance, causes sleep deprivation, adds to the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD and when exposed to violent TV shows, increases aggressive behavior in children (Borzekowski & Robinson, 2005; Owens et al.,1999; Christakis, Zimmerman, DiGiuseppe, & McCarty, 2004).

However, there is also a lot of research to support the educational value of TV. The TV is a well-loved object (Linebarger 2010). And when I say TV in this day and age, that may mean watching shows/movies on an ipad, phone, car DVD player, streaming device and on computer, along with regular programming from a cable network. After reading many research studies I have created some guidelines for the TV that hopefully can help you and other families.


Mrs. Brooke’s Guidelines for the TV:

No commercials: Commercials create an “I want” attitude. I am sure you have noticed this already. Choose networks and/or use online streaming that have no commercials and offer educational programming.

• Content matters: Choose programs that focus on learning. Shows that have words on the screen such as “Between the Lions,” “Super Why” and “Sesame Street” have been shown to increase literacy skills in young children (Linebarger, 2010). If you aren’t sure a movie is age appropriate, ask others and/or refer to sites such as commonsensemedia.com, which gives summaries of movies and appropriate ages for viewing.

• Background noise matters: Turn off the TV during playtime, during family time and during meals. More than half of families eat dinner with the TV on. This can prevent healthy conversation, healthy eating habits and even healthy play. Researchers in a study done with one, two and three year olds, said that even though the children weren’t interested in the show, background TV is an “ever-changing audiovisual distractor” that disrupts their ability to sustain various types of play. The finding is important because many well-meaning parents, who wouldn’t let their young children watch television, may not realize that even adult programs that don’t interest children still can have an effect (Schmidt, et al., 2008).

• Limit to 10 hours a week: Research has shown that children who view more than 10 hours of TV a week often have lower school achievement score (Trelease, 2013). With the average child watching 21-28 hours of TV a week, this may be quite the change for some. But one must wonder what your child is missing out on doing. Have them go play outside, write stories, paint, read good books, create imaginary worlds, bond with siblings, work on friendships, go on walks, or serve the community. There is so much more to do instead of sitting in front of the tube. And when your child says, “I’m bored!” jump for joy, as they are just about to embark on a whole lot of learning.

• When you can, watch with your child. Many of us parents use TV as a babysitter. That is fine and necessary at times. However, as much as you can try to make watching a social activity. Adding a family movie night along with your family reading night can add to this shared family time.

• Read books before you watch movie. Read aloud a good book together and then watch the movie. There are so many great read-aloud books with a movie matched with them. “James and the Giant Peach,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Pippi Longstocking,” “Matilda” and so much more. Make memories together. Compare and contrast the book and movie. Discuss with your child how the book was different in your mind than the movie on screen. Share how you connected to the character more in the book than on the screen. This is actually a really great way to turn your TV lover into a book lover for life.

• No TV in bedroom: Studies show that kids who have a TV in their bedroom often end up watching an hour more a day and have lower school achievement scores. Keeping the TV in a central location in the home, where parents can monitor dosage and content, is highly recommended.

• Try not to use the TV for  a “treat”: We must be careful as parents when we say things like “do your nightly reading and then you can watch a show,” for we are putting a higher value on TV. I try to never mix the two. The words we use can create a reading culture or viewing culture in our homes.

• Not before school: Children who view television before school have a harder time focusing at school (Trelease, 2013).

• Not before three years old: American Pediatrics recommends no television for children under the age of three. But, who are we kidding? Screens are everywhere and they are not going away. We must be responsible. If the child has older brothers and sisters the viewing time may need to be during the younger child’s nap time.

• Be a good role model: The television viewing habits of parents and siblings influences a child’s TV viewing habits more than any other factor (Yalcin SS, et.al, 2002).

It is your and your family’s decision to do away with TV altogether. I know many families who have a rule of no TV or screen time during the school week, while other families limit their child to one show after school. My rule of thumb is that if it’s affecting a child’s learning it is definitely time to rethink and create a new plan. Thank you for your questions. I hope you find these guidelines helpful. I call them guidelines, because once again you are your child’s first and most important teacher. Best wishes in creating a home that supports and fosters a healthy life and a love for learning.

Joy Brooke resides in Kirkland with her husband and two children and is a National Board Certified teacher in Literacy: Reading-Language Arts/Early and Middle Childhood. You can also contact her by e-mail at dearmrs.brooke@gmail.com with any questions regarding your child’s learning.

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