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TV or not TV? That is the question

Q: I’ve read articles lately about how television can cause ADHD and other learning problems. I’m not sure I can handle no TV at all in our house. Is TV OK – how much is too much?

A: My daughter, Erin, shared her views about growing up in a home in which TV time was limited. Now she thinks of a TV as an optional household item. But she noticed that her sister, Kaiti, enjoys the freedom of being able to watch as much TV as she wants! Our concerns were not as much about the activity of television viewing per se, as they were the content of television programming, using advertising to influence children’s behaviors and the time that could be spent engaged in other activities. By considering these variables, you may be able to figure out how much time you think is too much in your own family system.
    No TV is an extreme choice. Parents want to make choices to keep their children healthy and there often are controversies about parenting issues. You don’t need to eliminate TV from your household in an attempt to avoid ADHD. Learning disabilities are complex; researchers are investigating the intertwining factors. For example, there seem to be genetic components, as well as environmental components. Lead poisoning might be one of the environmental concerns and playtime with old toys found in an attic would be an activity to be avoided if the paint is lead-based. There is no reason that you have to avoid television. The answer is to find balance. [Note: If you were reading the articles because you suspected that your child had a learning disability, then you would want to bring your concerns to the attention of your child’s physician.]
    Make deliberate choices. Sometimes a TV is running non-stop from dawn till dusk! If you want interesting “background” stimulation, then make a deliberate choice. Commercials are created to “grab” the attention of your children with catchy music or engaging visual scenes. Instead, go to the library and find music that enhances your interactions if you want something running “behind the scenes.” Surveys show that many U.S. children and youth have televisions in their bedrooms. Why not save the money? Share TV time with your children and explain the difference between commercials and the program; younger children often try to weave the story lines together. Help older children recognize advertising techniques. Explain content – including nonverbal messages that don’t fit with your family’s values.
    What are you giving up? Think about the activities your family enjoys doing together. Some of these tend to disappear with too much TV. Preschoolers benefit more from bedtime stories than TV. Grade-school children might like to collect cards or stickers and arrange them in albums while you work nearby. An after-dinner walk has health benefits for everyone! Activities that promote informal conversation draw your family closer and build memories to cherish.    

Dr. Cathleen McGreal

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