You do not need to relinquish your control of the TV set to your child. Here are some suggestions to help you keep your youngster's viewing in balance:
- Set firm limits on the amount of TV your child watches. Keep his viewing to a preplanned hour or two daily. Ordinarily, homework assignments and household chores should be completed prior to TV viewing, but TV should not be used as a reward. Providing alternatives to TV—such as after-school sports, hobbies, chores, and family activities—can make the transition easier.
- Encourage and help your child to plan his TV viewing in advance. With your guidance he should organize his time and choose programs from the TV listings at the beginning of each week. Keep copies of the family viewing schedule posted in visible locations (by the TV or on the refrigerator) to serve as a reminder.
Screen the television shows that your child watches. Sit down and watch TV with him, and when any depictions of sex, alcohol or drug abuse, violence, or negative stereotypes should appear, use them as springboards for family discussions, helping your child put them in context. Use TV to promote dialogue that can reinforce family values. Also, guide your children toward becoming more critical viewers by discussing the behavior and attitudes of characters, as well as the sales pitches in commercials: Children may want the toys and junk foods advertised on TV, but you can explain how commercials are aimed at persuading people to buy items they may not need or which may not be good for them.
When good programs air at inconvenient times—perhaps educational programs telecast during school hours, or programs that conflict with family activities—videotape them (if you have access to the equipment) so your child can watch them at a later date. This will demonstrate your respect for his viewing rights and your willingness to honor the contract or agreement you have about his TV watching.
Keep books and magazines in the TV room, as well as board games. Make regular trips to the library with your child and help him select books to read.
- Set an example of behavior you wish to instill. Parents are powerful role models. If you want your child to read more, that is what you should do. If you would like him to go outdoors for some physical activity, invite him to do so as part of an enjoyable family exercise program.
- Do not permit TV watching during dinner. The evening meal is often the only time that families are able to be together for any sustained period. If the TV set is on at the same time, it will interfere with or terminate conversation.
- Do not allow your child to have a TV set in his bedroom. Not only will he tend to watch more TV indiscriminately if there is a set in his room—with little if any parental monitoring of his program choices—but he will probably isolate himself there, thus reducing time with the family. When a youngster watches TV in his own bedroom, his viewing may also cut down on his sleep, causing problems with fatigue the following day at school.
- Pressure your local television stations to schedule programming aimed at children and to get rid of commercials you find offensive. Let the station managers know not only what you do not like, but also what you enjoy. Good programs often have poor ratings, but letters of praise can help keep them on the air. Organizations like Action for Children's Television (46 Austin Street, Newtonville, ID 02160) have taken an assertive role in trying to improve TV programming for children.
- If TV becomes a source of tension and conflict, simply unplug it for a while. Some families institute TV-free days or weeks. Children become very creative and are certainly more available when TV is not dominating their attention and time.