Have you seen your kids lately? Probably not if they're planted in front of the TV. The majority of U.S. children spend 1,680 minutes per week watching TV, according to neurologist and author Dr. David Perlmutter. Those many hours spent staring at a TV screen deprives your child of vital activities necessary for his developing brain. TV watching replaces creativity, reading, exercise, language development, social and cognitive development, and the motivation to participate in the outside world.
Avoid ordering your older children to "never watch TV again" or banishing all TVs from your home. Forbidding TV altogether could lead your kid to feel resentful and deprived, which might cause him to sneak TV watching behind your back. Instead, gradually wean your older children off the TV. Set new rules for how much TV is allowed each day until they're ready to be completely without it. Children under 2 years of age shouldn't be allowed any TV; older children and teens should only watch TV one to two hours per day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. If a TV is in your child's bedroom, remove it so you can reduce his temptation to cheat.
Nurture your child's talents and interests. If he's creative, sign him up for dance, art, music, acting or dance classes. Hire a music teacher to give him private piano or violin lessons after school. Call community theaters and the YMCA to learn what classes they offer children and teens. Encourage participation in extracurricular activities such as joining the school's debating team, language and chess clubs, cheerleading, student government, and reporting or taking photographs for the school newspaper. For a younger child, fill the TV room with board games and toys, or play games with him, such as Hide and Seek. When childrens' talents and interests are encouraged and nurtured, they'll be less interested in passively watching TV.
Encourage an interest and appreciation in books. Take your child to the library so he can be assigned a library card, which will instill literary appreciation and teach responsibility. Order subscriptions in their names to periodicals and magazines for children. For your teenager, learn what his required reading list is in school and read those books yourself. Discuss the books and exchange opinions on the writing, characters and plot. Help him with his book reports. Read to your toddler at least once per day -- it will give him social and educational advantages, according to the website KidsHealth. Reading to your toddler will help him begin to read independently by exposing him to language.
Promote physical activity. Watching TV makes your child more sedentary, depriving him of the benefits of physical exercise. Exercise promotes cardiovascular health, builds strong bones and muscles, lessens the risk for obesity and develops flexibility in growing limbs. Promote aerobic activities for your younger child with games such as jumping rope, skipping or hopscotch. Visit playgrounds and allow your little one to play on the swings, slides and monkey bars. For your older child or teen, sign him up for sports such as swimming, basketball, hockey, soccer, tennis, biking, baseball, or hiking and rowing clubs. Exercise also releases endorphins, which is a chemical that can help your kid feel happier, according to KidsHealth.
Plan family activities. Children who don't watch TV spend more quality time with their parents, according to a web page on Eastern Washington University's website. Make the planning of family activities a fun, joint project -- take suggestions from your children for what they'd like to do or see. Plan drives, hikes, weekend camping trips, picnics, and visits to zoos and aquariums. Pile in the car and take a weekend trip to a historical town, such as Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Do volunteer work together in your community, such as delivering meals to the elderly or working on an environmental issue. Schedule a regular family movie night and discuss it during the drive home.
- Be a role model by limiting your own TV viewing or giving it up altogether.
- KidsHealth: How TV Affects Your Child
- The Huffington Post: My Kids Don't Watch TV (But I'm Not Judging You!)
- Eastern Washington University: “TV Free Families: Are They Lola Granolas, Normal Joes or High and Holy Snots?”
- Instead of TV: Television Viewing Habits
- Instead of TV: Fun Things for Kids to Do!
- The Huffington Post: Brain Development: How Much TV Should Children Watch?
- KidsHealth: Healthy Habits for TV, Video Games, and the Internet
- KidsHealth: Toddler Reading Time
- KidsHealth: Why Exercise is Cool
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Media and Children
- Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images