Cheri M. Gioe, Martin, Leah R., Merrill, Thomas A., Riche', Cassandra | 4/19/2005 10:28:36 PM
American children spend an average of 28 hours each week watching television, so it’s important to know how television affects them and to try to make that viewing time as positive as possible, says LSU AgCenter child-care associate Cheri Gioe.
"Depending on their age and developmental level, children view television differently," Gioe explains.
For example, from birth to 18 months, children may pay attention for a short time – mainly experiencing the light, color and sound. From 18 months to 3 years old, children begin to pay attention more, to imitate characters from their favorite programs and to gain some understanding of content. By the time they reach the 3- to 5-year-old range, children can find meaning in the programs, but still cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy.
"Because of all this and more, television viewing can be helpful or harmful, depending on how it is regulated," Gioe stresses. "Research has shown that television viewing can lead to physical aggression and less physical activity in children."
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests parents and caregivers consider the content of TV programs, the amount of advertising children may see, the effect the inactivity of TV viewing time may have on their health and other key points to provide healthy and enjoyable television experiences.
"A typical child in the United States watches about four hours of television each day, and during those four hours of television exposure, most children witness violence, sex and alcohol and drug use," Gioe cautions, adding, "Exposure to violent television programming causes children to become desensitized to violent situations and may affect how they interpret reality. Viewing television programs with a high level of sexual content and alcohol and drug usage may be directly linked to early sexual activity and drug and alcohol addiction."
Children watching TV also see up to 30 commercials per hour, according to experts.
"Commercials entice children to believe that they must always get something in order to be happy," Gioe explains, adding, "Commercials also affect how children take in information and may lead to attention problems in later years because children have learned from TV to receive and process information in small timed intervals."
Increasing amounts of evidence also show watching television can affect a child’s overall health.
"Children who watch television are more likely to become overweight, since watching television reduces the amount of time children spend participating in activities such as bike riding, swimming, running or organized sports," the LSU AgCenter expert explains. "Viewing television also affects the food choices children make, because many commercials advertise foods with high fat and sugar contents."
On the other hand, Gioe points out that viewing television can be a positive experience for children – if it’s handled properly.
"Television is a powerful medium through which learning can take place when parents and caregivers plan children’s viewing, set limits, view with children and ensure that programming is high-quality," Gioe explains.
For example, she says educational videos generally positively affect learning and behavior. But she says it’s important to plan television viewing and abide by a viewing schedule.
"Flipping through channels is a waste of time and tempts the viewer to watch poor programming," Gioe explains.
As for limits, the LSU AgCenter expert says as a rule, children under 2 should watch little to no television, and children older than 2 should watch no more than 2 hours of programming daily.
"Keep in mind that for children to develop good television viewing habits, parents and caregivers should set a good example by modeling good television viewing habits," Gioe says.
A part of that involves being informed, she stresses, adding that today’s television programs are rated to provide parents and caregivers with more information.
The ratings can be found in TV listings or in the beginning seconds of a program. The basic ratings are:
TV-Y – For all children
TV-Y7 – For children age 7 and older. The program may contain mild violence that could frighten children under age 7.
TV-Y7-FV – For children age 7 and older. The program contains fantasy violence that is glorified and used as an acceptable, effective way to solve a problem. It is more intense than TV-Y7.
TV-G – For general audience. Most parents would find this program suitable for all ages. There is little or no violence, no strong language and little or no sexual content.
TV-PG – Parental guidance is suggested. Parents may find some material unsuitable for younger children. It may contain moderate violence, some sexual content or strong language.
TV-14 – Parents are strongly cautioned. The program contains some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under age 14. It contains intense violence, sexual content or strong language.
TV-MA – For mature audience. The program may not be suitable for children under age 17. It contains graphic violence, explicit sexual activity or crude language.
The LSU AgCenter’s "Be Child Care Aware!" educational program is designed to educate parents and child-care providers about quality child care. It is funded, in part, through a contract with the Louisiana Department of Social Services’ Office of Family Support.