By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

Turning off the TV gives families a chance to think, read, create and do things together.

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that kids watch an average of five hours of television every day. Children who watch too much television spend less time playing, reading and interacting with others, and they are more likely to be overweight and aggressive.

According to the American Academy if Pediatrics, children under age 2 should not watch any television and children over age 2 should be limited to two hours per day. Parents should also be aware of what their children are watching.

The age-group rating system, modeled after the movie rating system, is a great tool to help parents decide what their children should watch. It is estimated that children see more than 12,000 acts of violence on TV per year and children’s TV programming contains about 20 violent acts per hour.

Toddlers and preschoolers are not able to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, and children who watch violent television shows have more anxiety, according to some studies. Children who regularly watch violent TV programs may develop aggressive behaviors and attitudes, become desensitized to real world violence, or develop a fear of being victimized.

Televisions made after 2000 are equipped with a device called a “v-chip”, which allows parents to program televisions to block inappropriate programming. V-chips don’t block programs on television that aren’t rated, such as news, sports and commercials, which often show acts of violence, so it is important to preview what your child watches and turn off the TV if the show is not suitable.

Parents should be responsible for what their children watch. Following are some tips for ensuring that your child is not exposed to inappropriate shows:

· Set limits on the amount of television that children watch to one or two hours, at the most.

· Hide the remote control. Flipping through channels encourages passive viewing, and your child might switch the TV to an age-inappropriate show.

· Don’t let your child have a television in his bedroom. Put the family television in a central area of your home.

· Watch the program with them so that you are there to monitor what they are watching. Avoid programming that has violent or sexual content. Encourage children to watch shows with characters that show cooperation and caring.

· Make use of the ratings system and know what your children are watching and whether the program is suitable for their age group.

· Be a good role model for your child by setting an example with your own TV viewing habits. Don’t watch programs that contain adult content when your child is in the room or nearby.

· Offer your child alternatives to watching TV, such as playing a board game, reading, playing outside, working on crafts or hobbies or listening to music.

Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children’s special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.