Vacations are here again, and children are waiting to be swept into the magic spell woven by that age old enchantress – the television screen. With more time on their hands, and entertainment readily accessible through the various television channels, it is natural that they willingly turn into couch potatoes. But danger lurks in the corridor of prolonged hours of physical inactivity and channel surfing. The ever increasing programmes showing violence and sexuality has made it imperative that parents have a subtle watch over their child’s viewing habits. What is it that parents have to guard against and how they can influence the child to avoid television for long hours without antagonising the child is a big question mark.
Safeguard your child’s health
The impact of television is felt right from the pre-school age. The moving image on TV is sure to catch the eye of a toddler. Interestingly, we find more and more parents treating the television as a sort of an escape route trying to distract the toddler from his mischievous antics while they get on with their chores. However it is pertinent to note that according to the American Association of Physicians [AAP] guidelines, children under the age of two should have no “screen time” at all, as this is the most important time for the development of the brain. TV can negate their interaction with parents and others and come in the way of their cognitive, physical, social and emotional growth.
There are various research studies which relate excessive TV viewing to obesity. This is especially true for school-going children. Don’t we often see children lounging in front of their favourite programme and snacking away oily wafers and chips or sipping a soft drink? Is the obesity problem due to physical inactivity or the overdose of commercials which promote these unhealthy food items with famous personalities as models? Or is it a combination of both? Even long hours of educational TV viewing can be detrimental because it results in physical inactivity. However well-designed the programme, watching TV puts children in a passive role. It stimulates only vision and hearing, denying space for active thinking and interaction. There are studies to prove that decreasing the hours of TV viewing in kids led to less weight gain and lower body mass index.
Children below the age of eight are not able to differentiate between commercials and reality. The deluge of advertisements right from baby food, apparel to unhealthy snacks, and cool drinks lure the child to try them out. Even older children have to be reminded that the commercial is aimed at marketing a product and that the product need not be as good as it looks. Advertisement of tobacco products and alcoholic drinks are banned in some countries or they come with the mandatory statutory warning, but a teenager feels it is cool to smoke or consume alcoholic drinks, when it is shown in the advertisement to be used by a favourite actor or sportsman.
Violence and Aggression
The increase in violent and aggressive behaviour of teenagers is a widely debated topic. The overdose of violence in television serials and movies — and recently even in some video games — have had an adverse effect on the minds of children. Younger children are traumatised by the sight of violence especially if a child is the victim. Even news items depicting natural disasters or child victimisation can trigger trauma in kids below eight years of age. Older children are sometimes induced to copy violent acts of retaliation.
What is the solution?
The solution to this problem is not simple and foolproof. But yes, there are ways in which parents can keep a subtle watch over the TV viewing habits of their children.
- Make TV viewing a joint family activity. Even though you may not be very inclined to watch the programmes they watch, give your children company at least in the first few minutes. This allows you to monitor what they are viewing.
- You can try treating TV as a privilege that your child needs to earn – not a right to which he or she is entitled. This could also get them to complete their daily chores in double fast time.
- Take time-off from your daily routine to preview their favourite shows in their absence. This gives you an idea of what sort of shows they like and maybe you could view and rate some more quality viewing of their own taste.
- Use the V-chip [V is for “violence”]. This technology enables you to block television serials and movies which you feel could have harmful effects on your child.
- Explain that commercials are not real and are meant for marketing a product really that may not be good.
- It may be wise to have a family discussion on contentious reality shows and issues. This will allow you to voice your opinion on the contents of the TV programmes, especially when you find them to be detrimental.
- Probably you could try the concept of a weekly off for TV viewing by organising a family outing.
- Be a role model for your child and restrict your own television viewing time. [Also read Preach and practise]
There are ways in which a child can be weaned away from TV viewing. Parents are becoming innovative holiday planners. They plan at least a short weekend getaway with their children. They induct them into the planning area by giving them tourist brochures of various destinations and allowing them to make a choice and list the tour schedule.
Another way to limit their hours of viewing is by subtly introducing them to some hobby which interests them. Drawing, painting, clay modelling, craft, solving quiz and crosswords, are the usual things that parents entice their children with. You can also give them pots and introduce them to gardening. The thrill of seeing a flower bloom in the plant, that the child has nurtured himself, is unique. Music and dance have become popular recently, and children love to join along with a group of friends. If you are able to get your child join a circulating library with a friend or two in tow, you will be surprised at the ease with which he or she takes to books. Age-specific story books ranging from pictorial tales to fairy tales to adventures, mysteries etc. are available at every library or book stall.
Encourage them to play outdoor games like cricket or tennis. Maybe you could a basketball net on your backyard or you could buy a bicycle for your child. During vacation, most schools come up with coaching camps for cricket, football, hockey, tennis or badminton. Children would enjoy joining these camps. An hour of outdoor sporting activity can offset their hours of passive television viewing and decrease the tendency to obesity.
Television in moderation can be an excellent tool for your kids education and entertainment. But the key word here is moderation and the value of the programmes that the child watches.