Want to do something really good for your child this summer? Something that will boost their health, their energy and even their mental outlook? There's no need to buy new vitamins or enroll them in a full-day summer camp (although these might be not be bad ideas either). There's something even easier that parents can do: just turn off the TV!
Ok, so you might encounter a lot of protest. After all, TV watching, along with other forms of 'screen time', is such a fixed part of most American households that the idea might not win you popularity contests at home. According to Nielsen Media Research, the average American home now has more television sets than people in it - 2.73 TV sets compared with 2.55 people. And, typically, these TVs are on for over 8 hours each day, with the average American watching 4 hours and 35 minute each day. Many of these 'average Americans' are kids.
All this TV watching, web surfing, and video game playing has come with a steep cost. As Robert Kesten, Executive Director of the Center for Screen-Time Awareness says, "Actual TV watching has stayed about the same, but overall screen time has gone up dramatically" – when other forms of technology are taken into account. Kesten adds, "Technology is not only seductive but addictive."
Despite claims that children's programming holds educational value, studies show that too much screen time can have a negative effect on children. Looking for a reason to boot that couch potato outside? Here are five findings to get your motor running:
- In a study of preschoolers (ages 1-4), a child's risk of being overweight increased by six percent for every hour of television watched per day. If that child had a TV in his or her bedroom, the odds of being overweight jumped an additional thirty-one percent for every hour watched.
- Research now indicates that for every hour of television children watch each day, their risk of developing attention-related problems later increases by ten percent. For example, if a child watches three hours of television each day, the child would be thirty percent more likely to develop attention deficit disorder.
- The more TV preschoolers watch, the worse they do academically in the first grade. In addition, the more TV preschoolers watch, the less well-socialized they are in the first grade.
- Children in households where the TV is on "always" or "most of the time" are less likely to read than are children in other homes.
- 70% of daycare centers use TV during a typical day.
Summer is the perfect time to trade in TV time for hours spent outdoors, exploring nature, doing crafts, and exercising. Spending time outside connecting with nature has been shown to produce a healthier mental and physical outlook. And kids who watch less TV are more likely to engage with real people in real time.
But cutting back on TV is easier said than done. After all, parents have reasons that our kids watch TV – often, it keeps them busy so we can get our other things done. Also, many parents are afraid of letting their kids outside to play because of media reports which depict neighborhoods and even backyards as being unsafe for kids. Here are a few ideas to help make a transition to less TV watching:
- Limit the amount of time spent watching TV. Turn the TV off when it is not being watched – like during meals and homework. Taking the TV out of your child's bedroom may also help. And set a good example by limiting your own TV viewing.
- Treat TV as a privilege, not a right. A favorite TV show could be a treat saved for after homework, clean-up, or other activities have been completed.
- Provide plenty of other fun alternatives. TV watching is easy to turn to for entertainment if a child is bored. But there is really no shortage of fun and interesting things to do that do not involve the TV – especially during the summer. Encourage your child to take advantage of warm days to get outside and play ball, jump rope, start a bug collection, go to a playground or park, plan a fun day or afternoon trip, pick berries, ride bikes, swim or run through the sprinkler. You get the idea – the list is endless. On rainy days, listening to music and dancing, reading, doing puzzles or playing board games, baking, cooking, or doing some type of arts or crafts can be fun. With a little planning there's plenty to do indoors too.
For hundreds of grade-by-grade ideas for fun activities, check out Education.com's new Activities portal.