How Much TV Should My Child Watch?

09/11/2013 03:58 pm ET | Updated Nov 11, 2013

When many of you look at this subject, you might think "Oh... this again?" However, the issue of sitting in front of TV is one that needs to be revisited often because as a society, our times for real conversation are becoming more and more limited. Computers, video games etc. have absorbed so much of our children's time that we often forget about real interaction. We also forget about the effects of TV as it relates to young children and their functioning in the classroom.

When I taught second grade, I observed many children who seemed overtired when they arrived at school, yet as the day progressed, their behavior seems to go in two primary directions. Some of them seemed aggressive while some others seemed oddly lethargic at school. I decided to do some research on these observations by beginning with the number of hours all of the children watched TV during the course of the week. Since we were learning about graphing and charting numbers, this was a perfect fit for investigating some of the children's behavior and to see if there were any correlations between TV and behavior.

Each child received a homework assignment for the week along with a graph that showed on one side the days of the week, and on the top of each column were numbers that ranged from one hour all the way up to fifteen hours. The children were instructed to color in the number of hours or half hours that they watched TV each day, and then they were asked to add the total number of hours for the week.

When it was time to share their findings, I charted the entire class on a large graph that I posted on the wall. Beside the rows I listed each of their names, and at the top of the columns I wrote numbers from 0 to 15. Then we added the total number hours of TV that we watched as a group of 26 children. The information was valuable, as I recognized a marked difference between the cognitively high-functioning students who had greater verbal and interpersonal skills and those who tended to have more academic and social issues. I repeated this activity over 15 years, and it always had the same outcome. The follow-up activity was a paper that I sent home the following week that said: "Things we can do instead of watching TV during the week." The responses returned to me began a worthwhile dialogue with my little students, and many of the parents were happy to have the support at home when they set TV limits.

I encourage you as parents to set limits at home, especially with TV time. Our world in so full of interesting activities and play dates for children to have with or without direct supervision, or as a family when time permits. I used to love having what I called "nothing time" in which I encouraged my children to go outside to look at the clouds or go on a bug hunt or to lay under a tree and imagine. These are the moments that can inspire children to decompress from a busy day, and these moments are fleeting as they grow older.

Make sure the TV is not in your child's room, and unless it is very important to you to give your child a half hour show or two during the week, make sure the TV is never on in the morning before school. In my experience, it really makes a difference in their behavior, and it sets a precedent as they get to be adolescents. It also reminds them that interaction with friends and family still has a meaningful place in society. You have the power to show them what your priorities are while they still have an impact!