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Help Young Children Interpret TV Shows
By Allison Powe
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- As television has evolved from being a good source of family entertainment to an issue of concern for many parents, Americans have developed different ways of protecting their children from television smut.
Recently, some networks have addressed these concerns by introducing movie-like ratings for TV programs.
Dr. Louise Davis, extension child and family development specialist at Mississippi State University, said parents should be ready to help children interpret TV programs appropriately.
"Critical thinking skills, which involve asking children questions to encourage thought and discussion about programs, are very important to help children understand what they see," Davis said.
"Children need interaction with adults while they watch television to help them sort out what is real and what is unreal- istic, as well as what is right and wrong," she said.
Davis suggested asking children questions about whether or not what they see is real. Have them compare TV situations with real life. She recommended discussing stereotypes of television characters and asking children if characters are like anyone they know.
Also discuss who is making money from TV commercials and how they are trying to sell their products.
"When children understand what they see and that television programs are not always realistic, they are less likely to imitate behavior or become frightened," she said.
Discuss values shown on television and how they agree or disagree with your own. Ask children how they would act if they were in a character's position.
Parents also should restrict the amount of time their kids spend watching television.
"Putting a limit on watching television makes a major difference in the benefit to children. Having a limit sends the message to children that watching television is not a passive, non-stop activity, but something you have to think about and plan," Davis said.
"Parents must decide how much television they are willing to let their children watch. About one or two supervised hours a day is probably as much as most children should see," she said.
Davis also recommended against using television as a babysitting tool.
"Although there are a lot of good videos available for children, many of which have educational value, these should not be overused," Davis said.
Television can be relaxing and sometimes offers educational entertainment, but parents should remember children also need interaction that television doesn't provide. Families benefit from finding alternative ways to spend time together, such as going outside or playing games.
April 24 through 30 is America's National TV Turn-off Week. Davis said a good way for families to take a break from television is to ask children what they would do without it for one day or even one week. Discuss family activities, and then challenge kids not to watch television for a certain amount of time. Plan activities focusing on family togetherness to take the place of viewing television programs.