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TV Or Not TV ... That Is The Question

During the summer months it's likely that our children will spend at least slightly more time in front of the television. In recent years, the debate about television has raged - how much television is too much? How does the violence effect our children? Is television educational or the ultimate evil? Parents have responded to the debate about television in a variety of ways, from banning television in their homes completely to only allowing videos, to giving their children complete freedom to watch whenever and whatever they choose. But what way is the right way?

Allow me to begin by telling you that I am not an extremist and that personally, I kind-of like TV. I find an occasional show amusing, sometimes I watch educational programs on PBS which I think are truly educational, and I do find it relaxing after a long or difficult day to be able to sit down and laugh at a silly program. My children also watch television.

This is not to say, however, that my way is the only way. Indeed, perhaps there is no right way, but rather an "informed way." Many times television is not used, but abused. It has a tendency to be over-used as a baby-sitter, the ultimate in convenience. Children will sit for hours, zoning out in front of the Cartoon Network while Mom or Dad busy themselves with work, surfing the Net, or housekeeping chores. That's abuse of the technology. Likewise, if children watch it "unfiltered," I consider that abusive as well. For me, there is no question that abusing television is harmful. I do think, however, that TV has good qualities, as long we use it thoughtfully, and are aware of the potential for abuse. So what constitutes use vs. abuse?

To help you make informed decisions about television use in your home, look at the following guidelines:

* How many hours does your child spend in front of the television per day? Don't estimate, actually count. Mary Pipher, PhD says that most adolescents spend 4 1/2 hours per day in front of the tube. I would guess that the number of hours is probably even more for younger children. Considering that our children's waking hours in our home only number approximately nine (two to three hours in the morning prior to school, five to six hours after arriving home and before bedtime) that means that half the time they're home on school days may be spent in front of television. Michael Popkin, PhD suggests that 1 or 2 hours a day on school days, and 3 or 4 a day on weekends is plenty. More than that may suggest abuse of the television.

* Does your child receive "unfiltered messages" from programs and commercials? If your child sits by himself without an adult in front of the television, the messages he's receiving are "unfiltered."

In order to effectively "use" television, we must do some interpretation of the messages it's sending out to our children. Commercials, for example, operate on the basic principle of making the product look more