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Good Question: How Much TV Do Our Kids Watch?

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Many parents focus on the amount of time their children watch TV, and try to limit it. Pediatricians have focused on it as well, discouraging kids under age two from watching, and kids older than two to watch no more than two hours a day.

But researcher and medical doctor Dimitri Christakis from Seattle Children’s Hospital says that quality of the content may be just as important as the amount of time watching.

“We often focus on how much kids watch and don’t focus enough on what they watch,” said Christakis in a statement on the hospital’s website. “While too many children watch too much TV, this study shows that content is as important as quantity. It isn’t just about turning off the TV, it’s about changing the channel.”

Christakis’ team put more than 500 families on a diet: half on a healthy-eating diet; the other half on a quality-TV diet.

The preschoolers who switched from violent TV to more educational shows were less aggressive than the control group (who didn’t change their television habits) and more kind. Both groups reported watching slightly more TV after the year-long monitoring project.

The control group increased its minutes of violent content, while the intervention group increased its minutes of pro-social and educational content.

According to the report published in the medical journal “Pediatrics,” kids in the intervention group showed a lot less aggression and more pro-social behavior in just six months compared to the control group. This effect lasted throughout the study’s 12 months.

But how much television do children watch today?

According to TV ratings company Nielsen, kids in 2012, age 2 to 11, watch an average of 24 hours of TV a week. That’s an average of three and a half hours a day.

It’s the exact same viewing pattern of children in 1982, before cable television provided many more options for children’s programming. Nielsen also reported kids watched 24 hours of TV a week.

That’s down from what kids were watching in the mid-1970s. In 1977, Nielsen reported kids watched closer to 28 hours a week.

Limiting screen time is still the recommendation of pediatricians, but Dr. Christakis said his research provides a media diet that cuts down on the negative aspects of television.

“[It's a] harm reduction approach, similar to a needle exchange, condom distribution or a methadone clinic for heroin addicts. The media diet reduces the risks associated with TV,” he said.

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