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Television: the good, the bad and the useless

​​​​​​​​​​Television is a part of our young children's daily lives. TV is on in preschools, in waiting rooms, in doctors' offices - even automakers are making it easier to hit the highway with high definition. Now, more than ever, you need to monitor and supervise your child's TV viewing.

Is television for your child good, bad or just plain useless? The following questions are frequently asked by concerned parents and are probably questions that you have had on your mind, too. We hope you'll find the answers enlightening and practical for your home.

Are my children watching too much television?

A good test to determine if children watch too much television is to turn the TV off and keep it off for 24 hours. If your kids don't know what to do with their time, it is likely that they are too dependent on television. Ironically, some parents find this test harder than the kids. When adults rely on TV for entertainment, they train their kids by example to do the same.

If you fail the 24-hour test, don't feel bad. Try cutting back just a little on TV each day or week until you have cut back to almost nothing. One of the best things you can do is replace TV time with less sedentary activities (walking, biking, playing with the kids).

Are the programs my child loves so much good for him to watch?

There are lots of ways to find out if a TV program is a waste of time. You can review a program summary and viewer rating in your TV guide, surf the Web site of the show or channel for detailed information, or talk with teachers and other parents. The simplest way is for you to watch the show before your child does. This way you can make an informed decision. You may also want to consider watching more educational and learning programs during the week, age-appropriate entertainment shows on weekends, and designate time on Sunday to watch TV as a family. But even quality television in large quantities is a brain-waster. A couple of hours total viewing per week is plenty.

What should I look out for when trying to choose healthy and entertaining television programs for my young children?

Excessive violence, suggestive images, disrespect for adults or peers, vulgar language and poor role models with even worse social skills and values are indicators you can use for judging the value of a program. However, those concerns must be viewed in context. Certain programs, including biographies and documentaries, include subject matter that may not be suitable for children, yet they have educational, historical or social significance. These programs tell important stories that can help children understand the world they live in. A good rule of thumb is to avoid programs that target children but have themes, concepts and language that are adult in nature.

I am a TV junkie! What can I do to keep my children from becoming couch potatoes?

Be a role model. You must be willing to reduce the hours you spend in front of the TV. Breaking the habit is hard, but you can start by curbing your TV hours. Do this by using the newspaper or TV Guide to select just a few shows that you really want to watch. Don't spend the entire evening mindlessly channel surfing. Don't allow your children to watch programs that are inappropriate for their ages. And if you can't give up a program that is for mature viewers, tape it and watch it after your kids have gone to bed or are napping.

My child can only go to sleep with the television on. What can I do?

Your child learned this behavior. Any behavior that is learned can be unlearned. Patience is the key. You must replace your child's TV with something else: listening to music, reading a book, playing a game, etc. Schedule TV time, with the help of your child, during specific daytime hours and adhere to the schedule.