To TV or not TV?

To TV or not TV?

Hand-me-downs are a rite of passage for many kids, but parents should think twice before passing along an old television set.

The best idea is not to put any TV in your child's bedroom, experts say. But if you do, a newer, smaller one is recommended.

Studies have linked kids' TV viewing to problems with obesity, poor grades and misbehavior. Yet about 25 percent of preschoolers, half of school-age children and two-thirds of teenagers have sets in their room, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

There are steps parents can take to make kids' TV viewing safer.

For one, avoid the temptation to upgrade the family room set and move the old one into junior's room. One reason is that older TVs lack the latest features for allowing a parent to control screen time.

A newer television will have a V-Chip, a now-standard feature that lets parents block programs with certain ratings. Parents create a pin code, then select the movie and television show ratings they're willing to let the children watch, said Nick Mokey, an associate editor with Portland-based Digital Trends, a website that focuses on high-tech lifestyles. Children find a blank screen if they try to watch a program their parents have deemed inappropriate.

If cable or satellite access is added to a television, parents will need to activate the blocking system associated with those products.

"The V-Chip is going to work on over-the-air broadcasts," Mokey said. "Cable or satellite is going to have its own built-in controls."

Some televisions also include a feature that lets parents set a timer to control the amount of time spent playing video games, said Julie Govan, an editor at, an online electronics retailer.

And there are accessories that limit children's access to television and games. Timers are available to control what hours the television will be operable, and how many hours a day or hours in a row it can be on.

Parents can even buy locks for the plugs on TVs and gaming consoles to prevent kids from plugging them into outlets. "If you want to take it away to punish that kid, turn the key and there's no way they can play," Mokey said.

Another reason not to place an old family-room TV in a child's bedroom could be the TV's larger size, said J. Allison Bryant, president of PlayScience, a consulting firm that specializes in media and families in Marion, N.C. "Family rooms are significantly bigger," she said.

A TV's dimensions should correlate to the dimensions of the room and where the viewer will be watching from, said Mokey. For comfort and optimal viewing, aim for a distance two to four times the diagonal of the TV, he said.

Viewing distances can be closer with flat-panel TVs because they have crisper pictures, said Julie Govan, an editor at, an online electronics retailer. If a television is going to be viewed primarily by children, place it so the middle of the screen is roughly at the youngster's eye level, she said.

Since gaming systems and DVD players also are popular in kids' rooms, parents might want to choose a set with enough connections to accommodate those accessories. Think twice about putting the Nintendo Wii into a bedroom, however, because players often need space to get up and move while playing, Mokey said.

Control over television viewing and screen time is critically important, said Dr. Vic Strasburger, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media.

"Most parents are clueless about how much time their children are spending in front of a variety of screens and what they're watching," said Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He recommends that parents watch television with their kids and follow the Academy's guidelines, which advise limiting viewing to one to two hours a day.

Parents who grew up watching lots of TV need to understand that programs today show more violence, sex and adult situations than in the past, Strasburger said. "This is not your childhood media any more," he said.

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