There’s a lot of advice about how not to let your kids watch TV. But what’s the most important factor in helping young children to take in television responsibly?
Child development experts say that routinely plopping young children in front of the set when you’re feeling overwhelmed isn’t going to help their mental or physical health. But setting strict limits on kids’ screen time isn’t always effective either. And complete deprivation — removing sets from the family room and kids’ bedrooms — may not be a practical of limiting and controlling what youngsters watch.
What could help in teaching kids about how to watch not just the right amount, but also the best kind of television, is for parents to adopt responsible viewing habits themselves. According to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, what’s most important in children’s viewing habits is how much TV (or DVDs or online entertainment) parents watch. The researchers interviewed 1550 parents with children 17 or younger about both their own and their children’s screen time, and when possible, they also asked the adolescents about how much television they watched.
The amount of TV the parents watched predicted the kids’ screen time, and this association was even stronger than that linked to parental restrictions on TV viewing, where the TVs were placed in the home, or how much television parents and children watched together.
On average, parents spent about four hours a day in front of a screen, and those who watched more media had kids who watched more. In fact, every hour that parents viewed TV was linked to nearly an additional half hour of screen time for their kids. There were some differences according to age, however. Restrictions on viewing had some effect for kids aged six to 11, and adolescents reported watching an hour more a day than their parents estimated.This is especially important when it comes to screen time, since kids will not only imitate the quantity of parents’ viewing habits but the quality, say parenting experts. If you are using your screen time in unhealthy ways, your kids will pick up on that and follow suit.