The tips come from researchers including Amy Jordan, PhD, of the Annenberg Policy Center in Philadelphia.
Jordan's team bases its advice on a study of 180 kids aged 6-13 and their parents in the Chicago, Philadelphia, and Richmond, Va., areas.
"Most of the children reported spending about three hours per day watching television," the researchers write.
That's an hour more than the two-hours-per-day maximum recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for children at least 2 years old.
The AAP recommends no TV at all for kids under 2.
The families studied were diverse: 36% of the kids were white, 34% were black, 26% Hispanic, and 4% of other or mixed ethnic backgrounds. Half were boys; half girls.
The researchers interviewed the kids about their TV viewing habits. They separately interviewed one of the child's parents (usually the mother) or a guardian.
Parents in Jordan's study underestimated how much TV their kids watched; giving an average of almost two hours per day rather than the three hours cited by the kids.
The families had on average four TV sets in their home.
"Nearly two-thirds had a television in the child's bedroom, and nearly half had a television set in the kitchen or dining room," Jordan's team writes.
These were among the things the researchers zeroed in on as they gave the parents advice on how to limit their children's TV time.
Most parents had rules about what their kids were allowed to watch on TV.
For instance, some kids aged 6-7 reported being allowed to watch "no grown-up shows" and "no nasty talk" on TV.
Parents generally agreed that kids shouldn't watch more than two hours per day of TV. But they tended to see their child as the exception to the rule.
"Many felt it did not apply to their child (unless he or she was doing poorly in school or had behavioral problems)," Jordan's team writes.
Parents also saw "numerous barriers" to heeding the recommendation, the researchers note.
Some parents said TV was a safe, fun distraction for their kids. Others weren't sure what their kids would do instead of watching TV, especially when bad weather kept them inside.
Some parents also worried that without the TV on during meals the family would bicker.
7 Ways to Tame the Tube
Jordan's team had seven solutions to such dilemmas:
- Pay attention to kids' "screen time," including TV, computers, and video games.
- Don't put a TV in a child's bedroom.
- Turn the TV off if no one is watching it as their main activity.
- Limit TV on school days.
- Don't put a TV in household eating areas.
- Don't tie TV viewing to eating, including snacks.
- Find other in-home activities that don't involve screen time -- playing, for instance.
Some families may need time to adjust, but "we expect television time reduction to have mainly positive consequences for children's well-being and family relationships," the researchers write.
SOURCES: Jordan, A. Pediatrics, November 2006; vol 118: pp e1303-e1310. News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.
By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang