Most of us underestimate the amount of TV we—and our children—watch. Try keeping a log for two weeks or a month. Write down the exact time you turn on the TV, when you turn it off, and what programs or videos your child watched during that time. You may be surprised at how much time your child spends in front of the TV.
The average child watches too much TV. The problem is not just that the hours your toddler spends glued in front of the tube are hours she's not spending exploring or reading or creating worlds of her own. Just as troublesome is the fact that the more TV your child watches, the higher the chances that she'll be watching junk at least some of the time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Parent Teacher Association, the National Education Association and others all agree that parents should limit the amount of time that their kids spend watching TV. The cap recommended by most of these organizations is about 10 to 15 hours a week. (That's a maximum of about two hours a day.)
If your child watches more than 15 hours of TV per week, you can try one of three strategies to try to cut down. You can:
- gradually cut back, reducing the amount of time in front of the set by a few hours every week until you reach your target;
- immediately cut down to two hours (or less) a day;
- quit cold turkey, declaring a moratorium on the TV for a week and then allowing your child to watch a limited amount of TV after that. (Play fair: If your child quits TV for a week, you should, too.)
Of course, if you cut out ten or fifteen hours of TV watching from your toddler's routine, you'll need to engage or entertain her yourself. Suggest other activities that will occupy her time. This means more playtime together, more playdates with friends, more art projects, and more reading together. If you don't make the effort to involve your child in other enjoyable activities, you have only yourself to blame when she starts begging, whining, or issuing demands for more TV.
Remember also to model good TV-watching habits yourself. You can't reasonably expect your child to limit herself to two hours a day if you're watching five to six hours yourself. That's hypocritical—and kids will catch you up in your inconsistency. So when you have some free time, don't just plop down in front of the TV (even if you're sitting with your child). Instead, spend it playing with your toddler. Do some art projects together or go on a "field trip" to a library, park, or museum.