Q+A: Are Kids Watching Too Much TV?

We spoke to Parents advisor Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health, at the Children's Hospital Boston about the impact of TV and movies on kids.

How Much TV Should Kids Watch?

Q. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 2 avoid all TV and kids 2 to 6 years old watch only one to two hours. Is that realistic?

A. Of course it is -- and I think most parents would be willing to go along with those recommendations if they realized how media affect their kids. Children definitely can live without television -- they did in the '50s.

Q. But things have changed a lot since then. We're surrounded by all kinds of media now.

A. We are -- it's the noisemaking wallpaper in our lives. But it distracts us from observing the world, interacting with one another, and even enjoying a moment of peace and reflection. We may be more informed, but there's a toll on our physical, mental, and social health.

Q. So what are the negative effects?

A. One is obesity -- studies have found that kids who watch more TV are more likely to be overweight, and it's not just because they are sitting still. Most commercials promote processed, high-calorie foods, and kids crave the products they see in those ads. But the list of negative effects goes on: Exposure to media has been linked to smoking, sexual risks, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

Q. Are you concerned about violence?

A. Research shows violence in media increases anxiety, fear, aggressive behavior, poor sleep, and academic and attention problems among kids. Plus, kids who are entertained by violence can get desensitized and not take a stand against bullying -- making our schools and communities more dangerous.

Q. Do your own children watch television?

A. No. My wife and I have provided our kids, who are 2 and 4, with a variety of options for imaginary play, creativity, and physical activity. Since my children don't expect to watch TV, they never ask for it. It's a real treat when the 4-year-old gets to watch a favorite movie.

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