Watch TV Smarter? What?? Please don’t confuse the title with the idea that TV may really make your child smarter. Yes, there are some educational shows that do contain some learning content, but generally speaking, kids are watching mindless entertainment and way too much of it.
New research is showing that on average, kids ages 8-18 are watching some form of TV on phones, tablets, or traditional TV for 4.5 hours per day. As an occupational therapist, I can’t endorse watching TV because there are so many negative components associated with it, like greater instances of obesity, depression, anxiety, poor school performance, and aggressive behaviors.
However, knowing that so many kids are spending so many hours in front a TV or some other screen, there are some things parents can do be a little smarter about how and when your child watches TV.
1. Use “TV Tokens” to limit the amount of TV time
Makea “TV token jar” by attaching paper tokens to the outside of a jar or old box with Velcro. Set a pre-determined amount of shows or TV minutes that you allow your child to watch for the entire day and then give the child that amount of tokens. Or better yet, have them earn those tokens by doing chores around the house. After the child has watched the show, have him place the token into the jar. Once the child is out of tokens, he allowed no more TV shows or minutes to watch that day. Get your child to buy into this TV token system by having him decorate the tokens and jar.
2. Sit Smarter
What does “sit smarter” mean? I realize that sitting and watching TV is a far cry from working out your muscles like real exercise does, but there are some seated postures that require more core and back muscle activity than other postures. Children that are sitting in the “W-Sitting” position where their legs make a “W” shape is one of the worst ways to sit upright and requires less muscle activity than some other postures. So, avoid having your child sit in this position to watch TV for long periods of time.
Try these seated positions instead….
- Tummy Time- Child laying on their belly propped up on their arms. This engages their upperbody, core, and back muscles. (*Note, this position works best when the child is watching TV on a tablet, phone, or low mounted TV rather than a TV mounted high on the wall in order to prevent neck strain and discomfort.)
2. Cross legged- Having your child sit crossed legged without their head or chin resting on their hands engages the child’s core and back muscles
3. Use commercial breaks for exercise “contests”
Kids are generally more motivated to participate in activities when the activities feel like games or contests. So, challenge your child to do some type of active contest until the show returns after commercial breaks. Here are some ideas…
- Challenge your child to run in place until the show returns
- See how many times your child can stand up and sit down during commercials
- See how many jumping jacks they can do during commercials
- Play and and seek with the TV remote until the show returns
- Spread pillows out on the floor like an obstacle course and have your child jump over each one until the show returns
4. Positioning is Key
Sitting too closely to the screen lends itself to poor body positioning or ergonomics. Oftentimes, the TV is hanging high up on the wall and the child is sitting on the floor with their head extended back, nearly touching the base of their neck which can lead to poor posturing, muscle weakness, strain, and discomfort. Have your child move back from the TV, and try to maintain a more neutral head alignment between the child’s eyes and TV screen. and try to align the child’s eyes straight on with the TV.
5. Turn off the TV an hour before bedtime (some expects say turn it off after dinner)
The TV screen (along with other electronic devices like phones, tablets, etc…) emit a blue light which has a host of negative effects such as disrupting your sleep-wake circadian rhythm which leads to difficulty sleeping and can snowball into other major health problems like chronic illness and obesity. Some eyewear products like Felix Gray sunglasses can actually help to filter out blue light in everyday life so that we can avoid its negative effects.
Studies have found that individuals who use screen time for an hour before falling asleep took longer to fall asleep than those who didn’t. Especially if your child is a poor sleeper, it is even more important to turn the TV off earlier in the evening to give him a better chance at a good night’s sleep.
6. Keep TV out of their rooms- I am constantly shocked to hear about some of the inappropriate things my students watch on their TVs in their rooms late at night. Keeping the TV out of the child’s room is good for several reasons. First, research is showing that the Wi-Fi signals emitted from electronic devices can interfere with sleep patterns, even while the device isn’t being used.
Secondly, keeping the TV out of their rooms prevents them from watching inappropriate shows that they may not watch with the parent lingering around behind in the background.
Even when parents install the smart V-Chip technology to limit inappropriate content on the TV, kids still find ways around getting to inappropriate content through YouTube.com and other internet cites. In addition to that, having a TV in the child’s room is yet another temptation to prevent a child from wanting to fall asleep. Keep the child’s room a calm sanctuary with the primary purpose being sleep.
Try these common sense approaches to watching TV smarter so that you have more time and energy to get outside and really play smarter!