A recent joint study on the effects of TV viewing on young children by the Universities of Montreal and Michigan found that by fourth grade the children who had watched several hours of television a day at age 29 months experienced a 7% decrease in classroom engagement, a 6% decrease in math achievement and a13% decrease in time spent doing physical activity. In addition, it was found that those same children had a 9% increase in soft drink consumption, a 10% increase in consumption of snacks, a 5% increase in Body Mass Index (BMI) and a whopping 10% increase in classmate victimization by the fourth grade.
Citibabes founder Tracey Frost took these stats to heart. Her New York-based community center is not only for kids, but also for parents. The purpose is to educate them while creating a safe place for kids to play.
“As a mom whose priority has been to educate and enrich my children’s world as much as possible,” she admits,”my first reaction [to this study was] completely one of guilt. While I am neither a child psychologist nor researcher, I am a mom, and it’s difficult to hear studies like these and not feel defeated in some way. Most parents I know educate themselves on the dos and don’ts of parenting, but we’re all human. Perfect parenting is an unfair goal.”
Offering enrichment classes such as the ones available at Citibabes is one way to get kids moving. “When it comes to TV,” Tracey says, “we reserve judgment and, instead, try to create a vibrant world of real-life experiences. Everyone can agree that real quality time spent face to face with other people is more fulfilling than virtual experiences.”
When I asked Tracey what we could do to create healthy viewing habits in our kids, she suggested the following:
– Role Model: The best thing you can role model for healthy TV viewing is, ironically, turning the TV off. Showing kids there’s more to life than a video screen is key which is why getting outside to the park, the beach, or just running some errands models the fun of physical activity over being a couch potato.
– Conversation starters: One thing that comes naturally to grown-ups that may not be easy for kids is the importance of discussing what’s happening on TV. When my husband and I watch TV, there’s always a conversation to be had whether it’s debating a point that’s been made or sharing complimentary information about the topic we’re watching. We try and modify that in an age-appropriate way whenever we watch TV with the kids. Asking questions about what we just watched is the best way to get kids thinking actively about what can turn into passive viewership.
– Reward: Sometimes the power of television is too seductive for kids, not unlike sugar and sweets. So, just like we’ve made dessert a “treat” after a healthy dinner, you can extend that lesson to watching TV. Make a chart for the fridge – and include the whole family – indicating what physical or “real world” activities were done for the day in order to “buy” TV time. An hour at the park might mean an hour of your child’s favorite show. A half-hour of reading a book might mean 30 minutes of playing games on the internet. Instituting a system of checks and balances may seem too rigid, but for young children who like structure and reward, the strategy works and you can always ease up as they get older.
So what do we do when they wing about wanting to watch just one more show? Tune in next time when Tracey offers up ways to draw the line and provide TV viewing alternatives.
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