ROOTS AND WINGS
How TV viewing affects children’s health
MANILA, Philippines - In our home, the television set and computer are, more often than not, the root of all evil.
It’s a test of will between my 9-year-old son and me. He spends an lot of time watching his favorite cartoons. The computer is another story. Ever since he discovered YouTube and found that he could access newer episodes of his favorite shows there, the PC has become another one of our “battlegrounds.”
With older children, the battle centers often on the amount of time spent on the PC for doing homework. Then again, when chatting over Yahoo Messenger (I can almost hear my daughter say—“But mom, that’s how we exchange notes!”) cuts in on research time, what could have been just two hours, stretches all the way to four, cutting in on important sleeping time.
Early this week, a New York Times article, “A One-Eyed Invader in the Bedroom,” caught my interest. Health columnist Tara Parker Pope wrote about how having a television in a child’s bedroom can wreak havoc on a child’s psyche and health.
She says based on numerous studies and interviews with countless pediatricians all over the United States, where your child watches TV often matters just as much as being able to control the amount of time that the child watches television. I think this can be said for PC use as well, but that’s another story.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended limiting television viewing to no more than two hours per day for children aged 2 years and older since 1986 and has recommended no television viewing in children younger than two years since 2001.
Unfortunately, we all know what the reality is in many households today, especially when yaya makes her alaga sit through her favorite noontime shows and/or telenovelas.
It’s even sadder though how when a 2-year-old is able to perform some hokey dance picked up from “Wowowee”; we laugh and applaud instead of being concerned and appalled.
There is definitely a time for everything and being able to gyrate at 2½ is not quite a healthy developmental milestone.
Studies on TV viewing
Earlier this year, I had written about the Top 10 health issues in children that parents need to be concerned about.
Among these was the rising case of obesity.
Results from a study conducted by Epstein et. al and published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine say that there is growing evidence that television viewing affects diet.
In the study, Epstein employed the use of a monitoring device on all bedroom television sets and other sets in the house.
The devices in half the homes were programmed to reduce children’s overall viewing time by half. Children had to use a code to turn on any TV in the home, and the code stopped working once the allocated TV time for the week had been reached.
Results showed that although there was no increase in exercise levels, relative body mass index was lowered because the children snacked less, lowering their average consumption by 100 calories per day.
Parker Pope also talked about a French study where it was found that among French adolescents, boys with bedroom television were more likely than their peers to have larger waist size and higher body fat and mass index.
However, the effect of too much television viewing endangers not only health but one’s study and reading habits as well. In the same study, it was found that boys and girls with bedroom TV sets spent less time reading than others.
What can a parent do then?
The problem is, once a television set has been placed in the child’s bedroom, it’s often difficult to take it away and it becomes all the more difficult to regulate a child’s viewing hours.
It becomes all the more important for a parent to be proactive and set limits to television viewing. I believe that when you start them young, it is a trait that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
What parents should do
The University of Michigan Health system suggests the following ways for parents to set examples for their children.
Don’t underestimate the power of modeling. Model moderate use of television that doesn’t interfere with your healthy lifestyle.
Don’t leave the TV on all the time for background noise.
Don’t expect your child to have self-discipline when it comes to TV viewing if you don’t.
Don’t watch adult programs while your child is present.
Spend your free time reading, exercising and playing or talking with your child.
Controls need to be set, especially now that summer is fast approaching and the tendency to just vegetate in front of the TV set is so tempting.
Rules may be difficult to set initially, but, it can be done.
The key is to find out what works best for you and your family. Every child is different and that is why it is important to really know what makes your child tick, and how much TV time will be healthy for him or her.
Boundaries are always good. There is the world of books and the world of good old-fashioned playtime, sports. Both you and your child will benefit from exploring other avenues of learning outside of the boob tube.
E-mail the author at cathybabao @gmail.com