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What Are Your Children Really Watching?

Saturday mornings. Cold cereal and Scooby Doo. How many parents started out our childhood weekends with this simple ritual? The trick was to wake up early enough to see all of the Saturday morning cartoons because after about 10 am, the children's programming was over until Sunday night's Wonderful World of Disney show came on.

My kids also like to get up on Saturday morning and watch cartoons. And on Sunday. And Monday? and Tuesday? You know the rest. While I had only a couple of channels to choose from, my kids have access to 24 hour children's programming on several channels, compliments of cable television. If you have a satellite dish, your children have access to even more programming.

More is better, right? Well, not always. With this abundance of television stations, we need to remember that not all television programming is appropriate for all audiences.

There are many parents and grandparents who had the viewpoint that if it was a cartoon show the kids were watching, it was ok. Cartoon violence? Well, who hasn't seen that coyote catch an anvil with his head for the umpteenth time?

The fact of the matter is, when many parents were growing up, with our limited television choices, a little cartoon violence didn't seem to make too much of a difference. Now our kids can choose to watch cartoon violence 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And it isn't just anvils dropping out of the clear blue sky anymore. What kind of violence exists in the cartoons our kids are watching? No, Scooby Doo doesn't go into a rabid rage and maul Shaggy when there are no more Scooby Snacks. But kid's shows have battles, fights, explosions and characters making threats to injure or kill each other. And our kids are choosing to watch this programming over and over again.

So how can we help our kids to make better choices? Most families are unwilling to go cold turkey and give up all television programming, although I give KUDOS to those that are brave enough to do it. You've heard it before ? limit what your kids are watching. But I'd like to add one more piece of advice: teach your children how to choose programs that are acceptable to you and your family's values. This seems to be the piece that is missing from most articles I read today on the issue of television viewing and children.

How do we do this? As you know, most television shows now carry a rating to give you an idea of the type of content (TV-Y, TV-Y7, TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14 and TV-MA). Content descriptors have also been added to this system to give you additional information. These descriptors indicate the presence of suggestive dialogue (D), sexual behavior (S), foul language (L), or violence (V). These ratings can be used as a starting point for determining if a television show is appropriate for your child or family.

Be careful not to pick television shows based solely on the TV ratings system. A recent study has shown inconsistency in ratings that television networks place on their shows. Some do not use the additional content descriptors (D, S, L and V) in their ratings at all. What this means is that you may be watching a show rated TV-G and then you hear some foul language. If the rating had indicated this with the "L" description, at least you would have been prepared for it.

So what's the best way to ensure that your kids are watching shows that meet your standards? Well, parents, we are going to have to take some time and actually pay attention to what is on the stations your kids are watching! Yes, that means actually sitting down and enduring an episode or two of an animated sponge or the latest teeny bopper life story.

You can also talk to other friends and family about what their kids watch and why. Ask the parents if they have watched the shows their children watch. You will be surprised at how many parents really don't pay that much attention to the content of their children's viewing choices. They have the attitude that if it is on XYZ Children's Network, then it must be fine. Even within the children's networks, shows are geared towards a specific audience. Do you really want your 6 year old to watch a show that is a teen version of a soap opera?

Then ? don't skip this one - talk with your kids about the shows they are watching. Discuss the content and if it is a show you are not going to permit them to watch, explain your reasons. You do not have to defend your choice, you are the parent after all, but just let them know why it is inappropriate.

Limit the amount of television your children watch each day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit a child's use of TV, movies, and video and computer games to no more than 1 or 2 hours per day. This will also encourage them to make different choices about their television activities. Do they really want to watch this rerun for the 15th time or would they rather wait and watch something new?

Take the time to teach your children how to make better choices with their electronic entertainment. It's a skill that they will carry with them past the next Saturday morning.

Lisa Workman is the author of Tokens for TV: A Sensible Approach to Balancing Television, Video Game and Computer Activities. For more information email lisa@tvtokens.com or visit her website at http://www.tvtokens.com

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