July 10, 2000
Would you allow your child to spend summer vacation watching television every waking moment for two straight months? Of course not. Yet over the course of a year, that is how much time the average child watches TV--one thousand hours, or more than 60 16-hour days.
The shows kids watch add up, and summer's free time can mean even more time for the tube. But most parents don't want their kids to have a "dumber summer." That's when a student's school year gains are eroded or erased by months of mental idleness.
National studies show a decline in achievement when kids watch TV more than 10-15 hours per week. Students earn higher test scores when they read more and watch TV less. But few children can regulate themselves when it comes to TV--most spend as much time with TV in one day as they spend reading for fun in a week.
When parents take charge, however, the benefits are far-reaching. In a recent study by PBS, parents who took charge of their child's TV viewing got remarkable results. Their children watched 40% less TV each week and viewed more educational shows. Parents were far more likely to watch and discuss the shows with their children. The parents also read books to children more often, and for longer periods, and took more trips to the library and bookstore.
Why do these changes matter? They matter because smart alternatives to TV can provide a big boost to your child's brain. Did you know that the vocabulary of the average children's book is greater than that found on prime-time television? Reading also builds your child's knowledge of new subjects. In addition, reading practice advances the brain's ability to recognize new words automatically, a key step toward faster reading.
Committing to a smarter summer won't cost you a cent, but it will enrich your kids' vacation. Here are a few ways your child can shine this summer, while the TV screen stays dark:
For free activity kits and more information on children and reading, call (800) USA-LEARN or go to www.ed.gov/americareads. For more on alternatives to TV, call TV-Free America at (202) 887-0436 or go to www.tvfa.org.