Teaching TV Responsibility

Teaching your children to become critical viewers has never been more important.

Be Your Kid's TV Guide

father and son watching tv

Alexandra Grablewski

Somewhere along the line, you've undoubtedly heard that television is bad for your children. Plenty of experts would eagerly warn you about the dangers of, say, letting your 8-year-old sit for hours in front of the tube, remote control in hand, while you're upstairs on Facebook joining "fans of Twilight" groups. (Oops...busted!)

If your home is anything like mine, though, TV is a part of your family life. Sure, you know it would be preferable if you all sat around taking turns reading Little House on the Prairie or jumping rope while debating the relative merits of the new economic-stimulus package. You also know that it would be better if your kid never gorged on cookies or touched a french fry. And, really, what kind of life would that be?

But believe it or not, there is good news for TV-loving moms like me. You can have your Ace of Cakes without your child becoming a passive pop-culture junkie, mindlessly jonesing for his next fix of Drake & Josh.

"Our kids are growing up in a 24/7 media-driven world. It's impossible to cover their eyes," says Liz Perle, editor-in-chief of commonsensemedia.org, in San Francisco. "For that reason, it's crucial that you watch television with your kids so you can inject your values and teach them to understand what they're actually seeing."

This doesn't mean, of course, that you can plop your child in front of the flat screen for hours on end (even if you're sitting by his side). It's important to limit your child's TV sessions, leaving plenty of time for more pressing stuff like chores, homework, reading, chores, exercise, and...did I mention chores? (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time a day -- this includes not only watching TV but also playing DS and computer games.) But whatever limits you set, as long as you treat screen time like yummy dessert, not the main course, you can lose the guilt. Oh, and I'm not just trying to justify the fact that I love watching TV (which I do!). I actually know that, used properly, the small screen can provide great fodder for everything from critical-thinking skills to talking to your kid about values -- yours and his. Plus, where else could you learn so much about meerkats? The challenge is to make tube time an active experience by watching television with your child and by encouraging him to think carefully and develop opinions about what he sees. Check out these smart ways of building media literacy.

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