You are here

Kids & TV — A Get-Real Guide

Ages 5 to 8+

Your child will want to spend more and more time with the TV, the computer, and video games, but continue to try to limit him to one to two hours a day total screen time. Balance computer and video-game usage against TV watching, trading off minutes spent on one with minutes left for the others. Electronic entertainment shouldn't be the only answer to "I'm bored"; champion books, art projects, construction toys, and other imagination builders.

Kaufax says she avoids using television as a reward or a punishment  -- a tactic that, experts say, only increases its importance  -- and instead employs humor to put the brakes on her 7-year-old's viewing. "I'll say, 'This is Matthew when he watches too much TV' and walk around like a zombie."

Exercise vigilance against violence and commercial pressure. Seek shows that have good role models, worthwhile messages (respect for individuals, cultures, nature), educational elements, and useful life lessons (independence, working out differences, responsibility).

As she gets older, expect your child to want to venture beyond commercial-free programming and watch the network and cable shows her friends enjoy. Screen such shows and just say no if the material flies in the face of your standards.

(FOR 5 TO 7) Anne: The Animated Series, Between the Lions, Reading Rainbow, Sagwa the Chinese Siamese Cat, and Zoom (PBS); Dora the Explorer, Franklin, Hey Arnold!, and Oswald (Nickelodeon); The Jeff Corwin Experience (Animal Planet).

(FOR 8 AND UP) Life With Louie (Fox Kids); The Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley (ABC Family); Scooby-Doo (Cartoon Network).

Using TV to teach children about TV. Even commercials can be instructive if viewed together, says Schrag. Question whether a talking toy really would be amazingly fun or a sugary cereal incredibly delicious, and explain that commercials are designed to make you want to buy stuff.

"With kids eight and up, parents have less control," says Diane Levin. "You're not always in charge of what your child sees. So the bigger role for you now is to help her handle and process what she does watch. The good news is, if you've had discussions about what she sees on TV and about making good media choices all along, this will feel natural and comfortable for both of you."

"It's okay if she wants to try watching something you don't think is so great as long as it's not violent," says the University of Illinois's Aidman. "Watch it with her. Tell her why you don't like it," she says.

If it's bad enough, turn it off, as Aidman did years ago when her older son developed an interest in professional wrestling. Kids need to be told no sometimes, she says. "At a certain point, you're not going to be able to dictate. What you want is that your children have a foundation for when they're making decisions themselves."