Canadian children, between 2 and 11, watched 15.5 hours of television per week in fall 2000. (Source: Statistics Canada, Oct. 2001)
Preschoolers (2-5 years)
- Children in this age group should spend most of their day playing and socializing, not watching TV. The Canadian Paediatric Society suggests no more than one hour of television per day for preschoolers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children under age two, saying that parents should focus on interacting with their children instead.
- Because preschoolers are more prone to exhibiting aggressive behaviour after watching shows containing violence, parents should restrict their exposure to violent programming, especially cartoons. Avoid buying action toys based on violent programs.
- The good news for this age group is that there is a lot of wonderful programming for it, particularly on public television. Build up a videotape library of your kids' favourite shows—because preschoolers love to watch the same programs over and over again.
School-aged kids (6-11 years)
- Because television takes time away from reading and schoolwork it's important to control TV viewing during the school week. Studies show that even one to two hours of daily television viewing by school-aged children has a significant harmful effect on academic performance, especially reading. (Canadian Paediatric Society, 1999)
- Unfortunately, there is a dearth of good programs for older kids, so they tend to spend their time watching cartoons and adult-oriented fare. Try to find quality shows that are aimed specifically at this age group, or appropriate general audience fare such as nature shows, family sitcoms or sports.
- Children at this age (as well as preschoolers) like action cartoons, and identify with superhero figures. Parents should actively supervise superhero play to minimize the aggressive aspects and maximize the creative, imaginative potential. (For tips on managing superhero play, use the tip sheet on the right side bar.)
The "buy me that" syndrome
- Parents of young children have to deal with the commercial influence of television every time they take their child to a supermarket or toy store. Some children's programs are little more than half-hour commercials for spin-off merchandise. When your children are young, you can greatly minimize "buy me that" pressures by restricting their viewing to educational, commercial-free TV channels. (For more information on this topic see the Marketing and Consumerism section)
Frightening TV content
Because young children have trouble distinguishing make-believe from reality, parents need to safeguard them from violent or scary TV content. Research shows that children want to be protected from media images that are disturbing or frightening. A 2000 study by Ryerson University asked more than 900 kids, between 2 and 12, if they felt they should be protected from certain kinds of TV shows, Web sites and video games. Over half (64 per cent) said they needed safeguarding, while only 19 per cent said they didn't.
It's important for parents to understand what is appropriate TV viewing for the various developmental stages of childhood. In her book Mommy, I'm Scared, author Joanne Cantor describes the types of media images that children find most frightening at different ages:
- visual images, whether realistic or fantastic, that are naturally scary: vicious animals, monsters, and grotesque, mutilated, or deformed characters
- physical transformations of characters, especially when a normal character becomes grotesque
- stories involving the death of a parent or child victims
- natural disasters, shown vividly
- more realistic threats and dangers, especially things that could happen to children
- violence or the threat of violence