By Lenita Powers
The increasing onslaught from television, computers and electronic games is luring more children to glowing screens and away from books, a recent study found.
Children ages 6 months to 6 years old spend about two hours a day watching TV, playing a video game or using the computer.
One-third of children ages 6 and younger have TVs in their bedrooms. About 65 percent of those children live in households where the television is on at least half the time. In those heavy-TV use households, 34 percent of 4- to 6-year-olds can read compared to 56 percent in homes where the TV is on less often.
Seventy percent of children ages 4 to 6 have used a computer, and more than half of those children have used it by themselves. Of parents, 72 percent said computers mostly help children learn and 43 percent said the same about television.
About 65 percent of children 6 and younger read books or are read to daily, but spend an average of 49 minutes each day with books compared to two hours and 22 minutes in front of a TV or computer screen.
TURN IT OFF
Place the television in a hard-to-get-to place.
Go cold turkey (kids adapt within two weeks - if you can handle it).
Phase out cable and then network programming.
"Fix" the television so it only shows video, then limit videos.
Have a yard sale and get rid of the television and all tapes and DVDs at the same time.
Leave the television behind every time you move.
HOW TO COPE
Sit quietly with a cup of tea and think about what you really want to do before jumping into several activities and getting too busy.
Be patient. If you can live through 20 minutes of whining, your children will find something to do.
Send the kids outside.
Make a list of all the things you love to do besides watching television and keep it posted somewhere.
Take photos of your children doing creative things and keep them visible.
Go for a walk during your favorite sitcom, get your heart pumping, and breathe deeply.
Create your own experiences instead of living vicariously through the lives of movie or sitcom stars.
Keep a journal of your "withdrawal" - it will make for good reading in a couple of weeks.
"Come out of the closet" and tell your friends what you are attempting. You may meet with more support than you think. atch it.
Source: TV Free Families and Barbara J. Brock, Professor of Recreation Management, Eastern Washington University.
Another study released this week says children who watch more TV eat fewer fruits and vegetables - mainly because commercials leave them craving junk foods.
So some parents are fighting back by limiting television and computer use, even as experts debate how much is beneficial and how much is harmful.
Lauren Ohlin, a mother of two young boys in Reno, Nev., says she doesn't want to insulate her children entirely.
"Our society is very technologically oriented so we want our children to know how to use the computer and the Internet, and you can't ignore television because it's a part of life," she says. "But our philosophy is that we're going to monitor how much time they spend, because there are other things they can do besides watch TV and play on the computer," she says.
Three years ago, when the family had cable TV, her sons, then ages 3 and 7, watched about two hours of television each day.
That's in keeping with a study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Children's Digital Media Centers.
Young children spend an average of two hours daily in front of TV, with DVDs or computers, triple the amount of time they spend reading or having someone read to them, according to the Kaiser study. And according to a Harvard study in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics, American children watch television more than partaking in any other activity except sleeping, averaging 22 hours in front of the tube per week.
The Kaiser study found there has been "an explosion in electronic media marketed at the very youngest children in our society."
As examples, it cites the booming market of DVDs and videotapes such as Baby Einstein aimed at infants 1 to 18 months and the launching of the first TV show, Teletubbies, which targets children as young as 1. In January, PBS unveils a new show, Boohbah, targeted to 3-year-olds.
According to Melissa Burnham, a University of Nevada, Reno professor, electronic media, no matter how interactive, can't replace a child's need to touch, explore and experience the world around them.
It's essential to a child's development to interact with real objects and people rather than just sit passively watching a screen, she says.
"Children learn language not by being spoken to, but by being talked with," Burnham says.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than 2 not watch any television, and that children older than 2 be limited to one to two hours of educational screen media a day.
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