Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Healthy Habits for TV, Interactive Games and Internet

No doubt about it - television, interactive video games, and the Internet can be excellent sources of education and entertainment for your child. But too much plugged-in time can have unhealthy side effects.

That's why it's a good idea to monitor and limit your child's "screen time," the time your child spends playing video games, watching TV, and playing games on the Internet.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that kids under age 2 have no screen time, and that kids older than 2 watch no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality programming.

It's also a good idea to make sure your child has a wide variety of free-time activities in addition to TV, video games, and the Internet. Activities like reading, playing with friends, and sports can all play a vital part in helping your child develop a healthy body and mind.

Here are some practical ways to make your child's screen time more productive in your home.

Healthy TV Time

1.Limit the number of TV-watching hours:

2.Stock the room in which you have your TV with plenty of other non-screen entertainment (books, kids' magazines, toys, puzzles, board games, etc.) to encourage your child to do something other than watch the tube.

3.Keep TVs out of your child's bedroom.

4.Turn off the TV during meals.

5.Don't allow your child to watch TV while doing homework.

6.Treat TV as a privilege that your child needs to earn - not a right to which he or she is entitled. Tell your child that TV viewing is allowed only after chores and homework are completed.

7.Try a weekday ban. Schoolwork, sports activities, and job responsibilities make it tough to find extra family time during the week. Record weekday shows or save TV time for weekends, and you'll have more family togetherness time to spend on meals, games, physical activity, and reading during the week.

8.Set a good example. Limit your own television viewing.

9.Check the TV listings and program reviews. Look for programs your family can watch together (i.e., developmentally appropriate and nonviolent programs that reinforce your family's values). Choose shows, says the AAP, that foster interest and learning in hobbies and education (reading, science, etc.).

10.Preview programs. Make sure you think they're appropriate before your child watches them.

11.Use the ratings. Age-group rating tools have been developed for some TV programs, and usually appear in newspaper TV listings and onscreen during the first 15 seconds of some TV programs.

12.Use screening tools. Many new standard TV sets have internal V-chips (V stands for violence) that let you block TV programs and movies you don't want your child to see.

13.Come up with a family TV schedule. Come up with something the entire family agrees on. Then post the schedule in a visible household area (i.e., on the refrigerator) so that everyone knows which programs are OK to watch and when. And make sure to turn off the TV when the "scheduled" program is over instead of channel surfing until something gets your or your child's interest.

14.Watch TV with your child. If you can't sit through the whole program, at least watch the first few minutes to assess the tone and appropriateness, then check in throughout the show.

15.Talk to your child about what he or she sees on TV and share your own beliefs and values. If something you don't approve of appears on the screen, you can turn off the TV, then use the opportunity to ask your child thought-provoking questions such as, "Do you think it was OK when those men got in that fight? What else could they have done? What would you have done?" Or, "What do you think about how those teenagers were acting at that party? Do you think what they were doing was wrong?"

16.If certain people or characters are mistreated or discriminated against, talk about why it's important to treat everyone fairly despite their differences. You can use TV to explain confusing situations and express your feelings about difficult topics (sex, love, drugs, alcohol, smoking, work, behavior, family life). Teach your child to question and learn from what he or she views on TV.

17.Find out about other TV policies. Talk to other parents, your child's doctor, and your child's teachers about their TV-watching policies and kid-friendly programs they'd recommend.

18.Offer fun alternatives to television. If your child wants to watch TV but you want him or her to turn off the tube, suggest that you both play a board game, start a game of hide and seek, play outside, read, work on crafts or hobbies, or listen and dance to music. The possibilities for fun without the tube are endless - so turn off the TV and enjoy the quality time you'll have to spend with your child.

Healthy Habits for Video and Interactive Computer Games

1.Look at the ratings. Video games do have ratings to indicate when they have violence, strong language, mature sexual themes, and other content that may be inappropriate for your child. The ratings, established for the Entertainment Software Review Board, range from EC (meaning Early Childhood) - which indicates that the game is appropriate for kids ages 3 and older - to AO (for Adults Only) - which indicates that violent or graphic sexual content makes it appropriate only for adults.

2.Preview the games. Even with the ratings, it's still important to preview the games - or even play them - before you give them to your child. The game's rating may not match what you feel is appropriate for your child.

3.Help your child get perspective on the games. Monitor how the games are affecting your child. If your child seems more aggressive after spending time playing a certain game, it's a good idea to discuss the game and help your child understand how the violence that's portrayed is different from what occurs in the real world. By doing that, you can help your child identify less with the aggressive characters and reduce the negative effects that the violent video games can have, according to the AAP.

Internet Safety

1.Become computer literate. Learn how to block objectionable material.
Keep the computer in a common area. Keep it where you can watch and monitor your child. Avoid putting a computer in your child's bedroom.
Share an email account with younger children. That way, you can monitor who is sending messages to your child.

2.Bookmark your child's favorite sites. Your child will have easy access and be less likely to make a typo that could lead him or her to inappropriate content.

3.Spend time online together. Teach your child appropriate online behavior.

4.Forbid your child from entering private chat rooms. Block the chat rooms with safety features provided by your Internet service provider or with special filtering software. Be aware that posting messages to chat rooms reveals your child's email address to others.

5.Find out about online protection elsewhere. Find out what, if any, online protection is offered by your child's school, after-school center, friends' homes, or any place where he or she could use a computer without your supervision.