UPDATE: In previous columns I have mentioned some of the negative effects of letting children watch too much TV. A recent study has found that excessive TV watching also goes hand in hand with high blood cholesterol levels. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, matched the viewing habits and blood cholesterol levels of more than 1,000 young people and found that those who watched two hours of television a day were twice as likely to have high blood cholesterol as those who watch less. Youngsters who watched four hours or more a day were nearly four times as likely to end up with cholesterol levels over 200. These findings are worrisome because the average young person in the United States watches at least three hours of TV a day.
Since my earlier articles, I have received several letters asking for suggestions about how to cut down viewing hours. Last week, while at the American College of Sports Medicine meetings in Orlando, Fla., I read an article in the Orlando Sentinel that addressed this issue. The following are some of their suggestions.1. Rig a short "terminator" plug. One couple who were fighting a battle with their kids about how much television they could watch removed the regular plug from the TV power cord and rigged another short plug that they could lock up or take with them in the car. Without the short cord (which they named the "terminator"), there was no way to plug in the TV. Instead of being a daily distraction, television became a weekend-only event. "The amazing and wonderful thing was the arguments ceased," said the parents. "As soon as (the kids) realized we had control, the arguing stopped."
2. Give children "watching tickets." One couple decided to allow their three children to watch five hours of television a week. For each half-hour of television, each child was given a ticket - or 10 tickets a week - to use as each saw fit. At the end of the week unused tickets could be redeemed for a quarter each. "My middle child liked having the money, so she wouldn't watch TV and would cash in all her tickets at the end of the week," said one of the parents. These parents realized that it's not enough to just keep the TV set off. Instead of telling them to keep themselves busy, they provided some options of things to do, such as having friends over, playing tennis, taking piano lessons and track practice.
3. Get rid of TV altogether. Three families had tried cutting back on TV watching with little success, so they got rid of the TV sets. To fill in the time used by TV, one of these couples began subscribing to a wide range of magazines and two daily newspapers. They bought an expensive stereo system, showed the children how to use it and kept a large library of albums. The father also opened his workshop to the children for building projects, and the family made many trips to the local library.
"We'd pile in the car, boogie down to the library and bring home a stack of books," said the father. "We'd read all the books, put them in a pile by the front door and when you'd read all the books in the pile or all the ones you wanted to read, we'd go back to the library - sometimes several times a week."
It may be that none of these suggestions will work for your particular family situation, but it is important to make some effort to restrict the amount of time your children watch TV. Good luck!