Taking Charge of TV

By the time they begin kindergarten, children in the United States have watched an average of 4,000 hours of TV. Here are some tips that will help you monitor and guide your child's TV viewing.

By the time they begin kindergarten, children in the United States have watched an average of 4,000 hours of TV. Most child development experts agree that this is too much. But banning TV from children's lives isn't the answer. Good TV programs can spark children's curiosity and open up new worlds to them. A better idea is for families and caregivers is to monitor how much time their children spend watching TV and what programs they watch.

Here are some tips that will help you monitor and guide your child's TV viewing:

  • Think about your child's age and choose the types of things that you want him to see, learn and imitate.
  • Look for TV shows that:
    • teach your child something
    • hold his interest
    • encourage him to listen and question
    • help him learn more words
    • make him feel good about himself
    • introduce him to new ideas and things
  • Keep a record of how many hours of TV your child watches each week and what she watches. Some experts recommend that children limit their TV watching to no more than 2 hours a day. However, it's up to you to decide how much TV and what kinds of programs your child should watch.
  • Learn about current TV programs, videos and DVDs and help your child to select good ones. "Sesame Street," "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," "Blue's Clues," "Between the Lions," "Reading Rainbow," "Barney & Friends," "Zoom," and "Zoboomafoo," are some shows that you may want to consider. Many other good children's programs are available on public television stations and on cable channels such as the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.
  • If you have a VCR or DVD player, you may wish to seek out video versions of classic children's stories and books, such as the Babar stories and the Children's Circle series, "Stories for the Very Young" and "More Stories for the Very Young."
  • Parents' Choice, a quarterly review of children's media, including TV programs and home video materials, can help you to choose titles that are suitable for your child. (For more information, see the Parents' Choice Website) You can also read about programs in TV columns in newspapers and magazines. Cable subscribers and public broadcasting contributors can check monthly program guides for information.
  • After selecting programs that are appropriate for your child, help him decide which ones he wants to watch. Turn on the TV when one of these programs starts and turn it off when the program ends.
  • Watch TV with your child, so that you can answer questions and talk about what she sees. Pay special attention to how she responds, so that you can help her to understand what she's seeing.
  • Follow-up TV viewing with activities or games. Have your child tell you a new word that he learned from a TV program. Together, look up the word in a dictionary and talk about its meaning. Or have him make up his own story about one of his favorite characters from a TV program.
  • Include the whole family in discussion and activities or games that relate to TV programs.
  • Go to the library and find books that explore the themes of the TV shows that your child watches. Or help your child to use her drawings or pictures cut from magazines to make a book based on a TV show.
  • Make certain that TV isn't used as a babysitter. Instead, balance good television with other enjoyable activities for your child.


Click the "References" link above to hide these references.

Honig, Alice S. (1982). Playtime Learning Games for Young Children. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Karnes, Merle B. (1984). You and Your Small Wonder: Activities for Parents and Toddlers on the Go. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.

Krueger, Caryl Waller. (1999). 1001 Things to Do With Your Kids. New York: Galahad Books.

Miller, Karen. (1985). More Things to Do With Toddlers and Twos. Chelsea, MA: Telshare Publishing Co.

Simon, Sarina. (1996). 101 Amusing Ways to Develop Your Child's Thinking Skills and Creativity. New York: Lowell House.

Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts. (2001). Activities to Implement the Prekindergarten Curriculum Guidelines. Austin.

Texas Reading Initiative. (1998). Beginning Reading Instruction: Practical Ideas for Parents. Austin: Texas Education Agency.

Warner, Sally. (1991). Encouraging the Artist in Your Child. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Excerpted from: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Communications and Outreach. (2005). Helping Your Preschool Child. Washington, DC.


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Please update your advice to parents. The 2010 report, Captioned Media: Literacy Support for Diverse Learners, from the National Center for Technology Innovation & Center for Implementing Technology in Education is a clear endorsement of turning on closed captions that have “a positive impact on comprehension skills, and combining viewing with text or captions appears to boost vocabulary acquisition, addressing skill deficits of struggling readers.”It’s easier and more beneficial to turn on the closed captions to help learning to read and provide students with many additional hours of reading practice than it is to get kids to turn off television.

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