Three R's: Reading,
'Riting, and Restricted
By Linda Reynolds
If your family is
like mine, your kids spent a lot of their summer vacation watching
television. Now that they're back in school, busier schedules
naturally mean children have less time to watch TV. But do
we need to put additional limits on how much TV our children
watch during their free time? According to TV-Turnoff Network,
the answer is "yes."
TV-Turnoff Network is
a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to encourage
families to watch significantly less TV. They believe that's
the key to healthier lives and communities, and especially
to improved literacy and academic achievement. The Network
cites recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau1 as
evidence that their decade-long campaign is succeeding.
- More than 70 percent of children ages
three to five have limits on their television viewing, up
from 59 percent in 1994.
- More than 73 percent of children ages
six to eleven have similar limits, up from 65 percent in
- Nearly 50 percent of twelve- to seventeen-year-olds
have TV rules, up from 46 percent in 1994.
The Census Bureau study
identified three types of television rules: the type of program
watched, the time of day when television is allowed, and the
total number of hours watched.
TV-Turnoff Network Executive
Director Frank Vespe said in the organization's press release2, "These
statistics demonstrate that the movement to turn off TV and
turn on life is gaining steam. They demonstrate conclusively
that parents are beginning to take significant steps to help
their children to break free of TV. It's clear that TV-Turnoff
Week, now entering its 10th year, and our other programs are
having a real impact on America's families. In a nutshell,
millions more children have limits on how much television they
can watch today than did in 1994. And that's good news for
American kids -- for their health, their education, and their
How does less television
translate to good news for children's education? There are
a number of ways.
Reading, like any other
important skill, takes time to develop, and children who watch
three hours of TV a day simply don't have time to read.3 Also,
good readers need a good vocabulary, which television doesn't
provide. Most prime-time TV shows have a smaller vocabulary
set than the average children's book.4 In addition,
the Census Bureau report links television viewing limits to
increased family reading time. Among children ages three to
five, 53 percent of those with all three TV rules were read
to seven or more times a week, compared to only 31 percent
of those with no restrictions on television viewing.
If you carefully monitor
what your children watch, allowing them to view only educational/informational
(E/I) programming, you may think you're okay. However, studies
show that 20 to 25 percent of the programs that label themselves
as E/I have little or no educational value.5 On
the other hand, high-quality, nonviolent children's shows help
children score better on reading and math tests than children
who don't watch such programs.6 Clearly, both the
amount and the quality of television your children watch affects
their academic performance.
According to 1996 figures,
only one in twelve parents required their children to do their
homework before they could watch television.7 Perhaps
that's why teenagers participating in the National Constitution
Center survey in 1998 were three times more likely to know
that 90210 is the ZIP Code for Beverly Hills than they were
to know that the U.S. Constitution was written in Philadelphia.
Academic performance may also suffer because more than 50 percent
of young adults participating in a study in 2000 admitted they
stay up longer to watch TV or surf the Internet.8
So if you're convinced
you need to make some changes in your family's TV habits, how
do you start? The following guidelines are adapted from The
American Academy of Pediatrics9 and The Movie Mom's
Guide to Family Movies.10
- Children younger than two should not
watch any television because positive interaction with other
children and adults is essential to early brain development.
- Children older than two should watch
no more than one or two hours of educational, nonviolent
- Children should not watch TV while
they're doing homework. Ideally, homework, chores, other
kinds of play, and family time take priority over television.
- Turn the TV off during meals. This
is "prime time" for family conversations.
- Children should not have televisions
or VCRs in their bedrooms. This situation isolates them from
the rest of the family and makes it impossible for parents
to monitor and limit viewing.
- Move away from the idea that we "watch
TV." If you don't know what you'll watch and for how long,
leave the set off. Instead, watch specific shows you choose
after looking through a program guide with your children.
When the show you wanted to watch is over, turn the set off.
- Become media literate and teach media
literacy skills to your children. The National PTA, in association
with the National Cable & Telecommunications Association
and Cable in the Classroom, provides media literacy materials
online at http://www.ciconline.org/Enrichment.....
1. "A Child's Day: 2000 (Selected Indicators
of Child Well-Being)," http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/p70-89.pdf,
2. "Census Numbers Show More Families Breaking Free of TV: TV-Turnoff Network
Programs Spurring Behavior Change," http://www.tvturnoff.org/08-03censuspr.htm,
3. "Kids and the Media @ the New Millennium," Kaiser Family Foundation, 1999.
4. "A Smarter Summer: Less TV" by Carol H. Rasco, Northwest News, http://www.nwnews.com/editions/2000/
5. Annenberg Public Policy Center, 2000.
6. "Television and the Family," American Academy of Pediatrics, http://www.aap.org/family/tv1.htm.
7. Harper's "Index." September 1996.
8. National Sleep Foundation, Press Release http://www.sleepfoundation.org/pressarchives/gen_y.html,
March 28, 2000 .
9. "Television and the Family," American Academy of Pediatrics, http://www.aap.org/family/tv1.htm.
10. The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies by Nell Minow, copyright 1999, published
by Avon Books, pgs. 663-665.
is the owner/editor of Edifying