Put the Brakes on TV

Last updated on March 3rd, 2018 at 10:38 am

It’s no secret that most kids watch too much television. For years, developmental psychologists and pediatricians have sounded the alarm that excessive tube time contributes to an array of modern childhood problems – from obesity to a failure to develop new interests. The good news is: If you start early, you can raise kids with a balanced and appropriate TV diet. Here’s how:

Set Limits

Sit down with your child to choose acceptable shows that he or she actually wants to watch. That way, TV is about watching particular programs rather than channel surfing. “When you do this with children from a very young age, they will have internalized this idea by the time they’re teenagers,” says Sylvia Rimm, Ph.D., director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland and author of Growing Up Too Fast (Rodale Press). “They’ll usually turn on the television only for something specific, and they’ll know that there are other activities that are at least equally rewarding.” Each school year and summer vacation can begin with a family sit-down focused on picking shows your children are allowed to watch.

Choose the Time

Once you’ve decided what programs to tune in to, it’s time to decide when your kids can watch them. Dr. Rimm recommends allotting a set number of hours per day (or week) for TV watching. For Julie Brown, 34, of Los Angeles, the magic number is one. “I allow my 5-year-old and 2-year-old one hour of TV per day – a half-hour in the morning and then a half-hour at night,” she says. “I set an egg timer, and when the buzzer goes off, TV time is over.”

Watch Family-style

Nothing wipes out family time faster than giving kids their own TV. “The minute I got my daughter a TV for her bedroom, it was over. We never saw her after dinner,” says Andrea Keen, 37, of Rye, N.Y. “After six months, my husband and I decided to give it to the Salvation Army, but not without loud protesting from my daughter which could have been avoided had we never bought the thing for her in the first place.”

When you keep a family TV in a common area like the living room or den, you’re more likely to watch together. “Watching television as a family is much better for kids than individualized viewing,” says Dr. Rimm. “If this can become routine in the family, kids will actually look forward to and initiate this kind of time together.” Enforcing TV rules are also easier when the television is in plain view.

Reward Them With TV

Jan Frazier, 32, of Oklahoma City, uses TV as a reward for good behavior and a job well done. “If my 4- and 5-year-olds make good choices during the day, they earn their TV time for the evening,” she explains. “If bath time and bedtime go smoothly, they’re allowed to watch TV the next morning. That way, TV becomes more of a treat — and it’s a bargaining chip I use to encourage my kids to behave.” Another benefit: Making TV a reward for exercise increased kids’ physical activity by 65 percent, according to a study by the University of Ottawa, in Canada. Some parents even park kid-sized exercise bikes in front of the TV to curb couch-potato tendencies.

Provide Alternatives

Believe it or not, kids will often choose fun and challenging activities over TV – if they have the opportunity. That’s where parents come in. “There are all sorts of things that even overworked parents can muster the energy to do with their kids, from model building to card games to gardening,” says Dr. Rimm. “When there are other fun things happening in and out of the home, the TV rules become less necessary to enforce.”

So turn off the TV and read your kids a book. Play “Candy Land.” Put on a puppet show. Instead of watching the on-screen exploits of SpongeBob, Elmo or Dora, go out and create your own adventures!



Are School Lunches Getting Healthier?

Last updated on August 30th, 2015 at 11:51 pm

Warning: School lunch is my hot-button issue. Politics or sports don’t nearly drive me as crazy as hearing my 9-year-old daughter, Katie, announce what her school cafeteria served. Yesterday, for instance, she told me about a pretzel-wrapped hot dog, corn, “peaches in slimy sauce,” and cake. Grrr.

A couple of months ago, my hopes were raised when I heard that the USDA was toughening up the rules for school lunch. In September, every public school that has some students from low-income families on the free lunch program is required to follow these new guidelines – that’s most public and charter schools in the country, including Katie’s. The USDA hailed these changes as “historic improvements.” I, however, was not terribly impressed. While I was happy to see that the rules stipulate more whole grains at lunchtime and better milk choices, canned fruit with syrup – which seems to be the fruit du jour at Katie’s school — and super-high levels of sodium are still permitted. Elementary school lunches currently contain 1,377 milligrams of sodium – almost as much as kids should have for the entire day. The USDA’s goal is to lower that to 1,230 mg by the 2014/2015 school year and then drop it to 935 mg by 2017. Katie will be in college before it becomes a more reasonable 635 mg in 2022.

I asked Elisa Zied – registered dietitian, author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips and mom of two boys – if she was happy about new lunch menus. Her response: “They’re not perfect, but they’re a step in the right direction.” And, of course, she’s right about that. Babies born this year will undoubtedly have healthier school lunches when they’re in the fourth grade than my daughter does now.

But where does that leave me? Packing a lunch every day is a pain, but I’ve learned over the years to plan dinnertime leftovers, like pasta salad or roasted chicken, that could easily work for the lunchbox the next day. It’s tempting to toss in packaged crackers or pretzels. But more often than not, I stick with no-fuss fruit, like bananas and easy-to-peel clementines. What do you pack for your hungry students?



Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 08-27-2012 to 09-02-2012

Last updated on March 3rd, 2018 at 10:38 am

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world.

Each day we use Twitter to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues who are not on Twitter (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 20 news-worthy events.

PedSafe Headline of the Week:

Benefits of infant circumcision outweigh risks, top pediatrics group says http://t.co/T0NnkN9R

Do They Really NEED a Back-to-School Dental Checkup?

Last updated on September 13th, 2015 at 01:07 am

Did you know that tooth decay (or cavities) is an infectious disease? What’s more alarming is that, according to the United States Surgeon General, more than half of children ages 5-9 have at least 1 cavity and that more than 51 million hours of school are missed each year due to dental related issues. That is why it is important for parents to have their children evaluated as part of their back to school checkups if they aren’t already being seen twice a year.

Dental wellness is still not widely thought of in a person’s overall health. It is important for parents to understand that cavities, as well as gingivitis and gum disease, actually affect the rest of the body and left untreated can spread and worsen. The American Dental Association reports that tooth decay is the most common, chronic disease of children and is a key cause of tooth loss in younger people.

Fortunately, tooth decay is preventable and treatable. Just like safeguarding ourselves and children against common colds by washing hands, there are ways to help fight decay. Helping our children develop good dental hygiene habits by regular brushing and flossing will help with prevention. Regular dental checkups can help with early detection and allow issues to be taken care of before the threat of spreading, pain or even tooth loss.

So while you’re out picking up that new backpack or #2 pencil , make sure that a dental checkup is on your list. Giving our children the best chance at starting the school year healthy, happy and ready to learn is the best thing we can do to ensure their success. Happy Back-to School!