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How Much TV is Right for Kids?

New study suggests that 'when' may be as important as 'what' when it comes to children and screen time.

Moms Talk is a weekly feature on all Lehigh Valley Patches in which local parents are invited to share opinions and advice on parenting issues.

This week’s Moms Talk topic is TV:

A study released last month by the American Pediatric Association added another layer to the great TV debate. The APA found that young children who watch television or play video games close to bedtime have difficulty falling asleep and difficulty staying asleep.

The study focused on kids between the ages of 3 and 5 and found that allowing these youngsters to watch TV before bed to help them wind down actually seems to have the opposite affect, making it harder for the kids to nod off and leading to restless sleep and lots of waking up during the night.

Overall, the study suggests no screen time after 7 p.m. and keeping the last hour before bed TV-free for a peaceful night’s rest. 

What are your thoughts on children and TV? How much TV is okay and how much is just too much? Does your TV viewing policy vary by age? Do you count computer and video gaming time in your youngster’s overall daily allowance? Is watching TV before bed OK? 

Join the conversation. Each week our Moms Council members discuss these and other issues. 

Our Moms Council members include: 

  • Lisa Amey, of Upper Milford Township, is a stay-at-home mom to an 8-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. A past president of the MOMS Club of Emmaus and long time member of MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers), Lisa is an Independent Consultant for Arbonne International. 
  • Lisa Drew, of Emmaus, is a certified nutritionist and personal trainer, wellness and fitness coach with more than 17-years experience. She is the mother of a 13-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy.
  • Jennifer Elston, of Emmaus, has almost two decades of professional experience in child development and counseling. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to two beautiful girls. Together with her husband, Chris, she owns Christopher Elston Photography.
  • Jeanne Lombardo of Nazareth is the mother to a 10-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. She’s new to the Lehigh Valley, having moved to Nazareth from Bergen County, N.J. in January.
  • Lisa Merk, of Lower Macungie, is a stay-at-home mother of four boys – a 12-year-old and 6-year-old triplets. Lisa is a past president of the MOMS Club of Lower Macungie East. In her “spare” time, Lisa teaches piano to school-age children.
  • Megan Patruno, of Allentown, is a mother of three – an 11-year-old boy, an 8-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy. Megan also works as an admission counselor for Muhlenberg College in Allentown.
  • Zoila Bonilla Paulof Bethlehem, is a stay-at-home mom to two girls – a 5 year old and a 14 month old. Zoila is a member of her local “moms’ club” and says she is “well-versed in the fun that children can bring.”
  • Beth Sharpless of Emmaus, works part-time in a local emergency department as a nurse and part-time from home as a customer support specialist. She has two children, a boy who is almost 2, and a 5-year-old girl. She says they love spending time outdoors and dancing. 

If you would like to become a part of the Moms Council and/or have ideas for future Moms Talk questions, please email jennifer.marangos@patch.com.

Jeanne July 25, 2011 at 10:32 AM
I believe in doing what you feel works for your family, not what statistics tell you should. I have a tv on in my home almost all day and night - even if we aren't watching it, which is a good part of the day, we just use it as background noise. My kids play video games before bed, when they wake up - it doesn't seem to effect them socially by any means. My kids play hard, enjoy their lives and do what is fun. When it's time for bed....they settled down with us...either watching tv, playing a video game, just talking or reading - whatever their preference is for that night. They sleep just as well if they read before bed than they do if they play video games. I monitor the video games they play....they aren't allowed any of those intense going against the cops games....but they do play army games. It seems as if it is just another part of their lives...they take things and put them in perspective and realize this is what I'm doing right now, but my life tomorrow may be playing outside all day and going to a play. As long as they aren't stuck in a particular situation that is "stultifying" for a while, I think kids adjust if you give them the right guidance to be able to.
Lisa Merk July 25, 2011 at 03:31 PM
I completly agree with Jeanne. You need to do what is best for your family. While I do have friends that don't even have tv and sometimes I am jealous of them, that would not work for us (to many ball games!) I don't have the TV on all day, but it is on quite a bit whether it be for tv, movies, games, or Wii. I do try to keep things in check and appropriate for my kids ages. I think if your child had problems with falling asleep or nightmares, etc. you may want to take this study more to heart, but as the adage goes if it ain't broke don't fix it~.
Jennifer Marangos (Editor) July 25, 2011 at 07:13 PM
I probably would not have believed it if I hadn't tried it myself, but after reading about this study, I did curtail my four-year-olds TV viewing habits. He has been a perpetual "night crawler," falling asleep in his own bed and inevitably winding up in my bed between me and his dad at some point in the middle of the night. My husband and I had been in the practice of allowing the boys some TV in the evening as a way of "unwinding" before bed. This was probably more for me than it was for them, as by the time dinner is served and cleaned up, I am ready to zone in front of the TV. Believe it or not, as soon as we stopping turning the TV on in the afternoon/evening, the bed hopping stopped. If we allow the TV after dinner, we inevitably have a visitor scooting into our bed around 3 a.m.
Carrie Havranek July 25, 2011 at 07:20 PM
Fascinating, Jennifer. My kids are two and a half (I have twins) and we never turn the television after dinner. I imagine as they get older this might be more difficult, but right now they are too busy exploring many other things to ask for tv after dinner. They're ready for their bath and bed time. We do let them watch some television (about an hour a day, maximum, and some days they don't even get that), but too much visual/aural stimuli before bed time is not good for anyone--adults included, I think.
Jennifer Marangos (Editor) July 25, 2011 at 07:48 PM
I know Carrie. I am finding it fascinating myself. It's not like we were allowing three hours of TV or crazy stuff either. A half hour of a PBS show like Cat in the Hat after dinner and he wakes up. It's definitely getting harder to "protect" the little guy from TV, as his brother is 7 and a bit of a TV addict, truth-be-told.
Beth July 25, 2011 at 08:30 PM
We do really try to keep the TV watching to a minimum. And, when the kids do watch it, it's mostly PBS. I really have a hard time with the commercialization of cartoons and all the marketing of things geared towards the kids-who needs it? All of the "stuff" that seems to be pushed on kids (and adults for that matter) via the TV is (in my mind) not necessary. We do watch movies fairly regularly. There is no set "amount" of TV we watch in a week, but I think that will be changing, because man, when the TV goes off-my 5 year old daughter sometimes just about loses it. In the background, we have music on. I do think it's nice to have something around to keep me company, but don't think it should be TV for us-especially when I see how my daughter handles it when it goes off-and then of course, my son sees how she handles it and bam-guess what, he's getting to be the same way. Everything in moderation. The kids pretty much never watch the TV after dinner. It just doesn't fit into our routine. We play after dinner and have that together time we didn't get to have all day.
Lisa Amey July 25, 2011 at 09:03 PM
I try to limit my kids to 60 minutes of total "screen time" per day, between the TV, computer, Wii, etc. For example, if they play Wii for an hour, that's it for the day. If they play a computer game for 30 minutes, they only have 30 minutes left of screen time for that day. An exception to that is when we have Movie Night as a family, as most movies are more than 60 minutes. I might allow a little more than 60 minutes if they are too sick to move from the couch. I will not allow either chld to have a TV or computer in their room. I will say that watching some TV after dinner and showers has not impacted my kids sleep habits at all. We usually have such an active day that starts early, and they go-go-go all day, and that it has served as quiet down time for them.
Joshua Gillem July 26, 2011 at 07:20 PM
While, I'm not a mom, I am a stay/work at home dad. I have two young girls at home and try to limit their viewing time as much as possible. We don't even have cable in our house. We stream netflix and I have a better grasp of what they are watching. Lisa, I also will not allow them to have TV's in their rooms. It doesn't always work out the way I want it to, but I do my best. I have studied this topic in detail and came to the conclusion that television is not healthy for our children.

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