- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 12, 2001

Family is the most important influence on children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Television, however, is not far behind.

Overall, American children watch about two additional hours of television per day than the one to two hours the AAP recommends as the limit.

The organization offers guidelines to parents who wish to get a grip on their children's TV consumption:

1. Set limits. Limit to one or two hours per day your child's use of television, movies, and video and computer games. Keep the set switched off during homework time.

2. Plan your child's viewing. Don't just channel-surf use a program guide and the TV ratings to help you and your child choose shows. Click the television on to watch the program and click it off once the show ends.

3. Watch TV with your child. Whenever possible, view the show with your child and discuss what you see. Very young children may not be able to distinguish between shows, commercials, cartoons and real life. If your schedule does not permit you to share viewing time with your child, talk to him later about what was watched.

4. Find the right message. Even a poor program can be a learning experience if you help your child find the right message. For example, some programs may portray people as stereotypes. Discuss ways we are different and ways we are the same. Help your child learn tolerance for others.

5. Help your child resist commercials. When your child asks for products advertised on television, explain that the purpose of commercials is to make people want things they may not need. Limit the number of commercials your child sees by watching public television.

6. Look for quality children's videos. Many are available. For suggestions, contact the Coalition for Quality Children's Media, a national nonprofit group, by calling 505/989-8076 or clicking on www.cqcm.org/kidsfirst.

7. Give other options. Watching television can become a habit to children. Parents should insist on other options, such as reading, playing, learning a hobby or sport, or enjoying activities with family, friends or neighbors.

8. Set a good example. Limit your own TV viewing and choose programs carefully.

9. Express your views. When you like or don't like something you have seen on television, make yourself heard by writing to the station, network or program sponsor. Such entities pay attention to feedback from the public.

If you see a commercial that you believe is misleading, contact your local Better Business Bureau or the Children's Advertising Review Unit at the Council of Better Business Bureau, 845 Third Ave., New York, N.Y. 10022.

10. Get more information. The following can provide you with more information about the proper role of television in your child's life: your pediatrician, public-service groups, PTA; parents of your child's friends and classmates.

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