Every parent knows it is hard enough to get kids to go to bed, but adding ‘violent’ TV shows may add to the problem. Digital distractions can lead to bedtime issues and now new research has found that kids can’t sleep easy watching SpongeBob or Scooby-Doo because they may be harmful to sleep patterns.
At the Seattle Children’s Research Institute a study was performed to determine sleep and TV watching habits of 565 kids 3 to 5 years of age. The families who participated answered several questions about their children’s nighttime sleep routine and then completed the same survey six months, 12 and 18 months later. The researchers split the families into two groups; one (focus group) received a home visit, phone calls and mailings with instructions on how to make better TV choices while the other controlled group only received nutrition information.
Prior to any involvement, researched noted no difference of sleep and TV habits between kids in either group. After the study they found that kids who changed to more age-appropriate TV viewing had considerably less trouble falling asleep easy and staying asleep throughout the night. In fact, 64% were less likely to have sleep problems, including nightmares. One problem was that parents had a hard time figuring out which shows weren’t considered ‘violent’ for their young children.
Shows like Scooby-Doo and SpongeBob SquarePants may be too violent for 3 or 4 year olds without parents realizing it. SpongeBob also received bad press last fall when researchers suggested the show’s quick animation sequences could cause attention problems, but hadn’t looked at the effects it had on sleep patterns. Other cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Road Runner or Tom and Jerry can also affect a 3 year old’s sleep due to violence. Tom and Jerry is infamous for some of the most violent cartoon gags ever devised; such as Jerry slicing Tom in half, shutting his head in a window or a door, Tom using everything from axes, firearms, explosives, traps and poison to try to murder Jerry.
Parents know that preschooler shouldn’t watch violent movies, but they may not necessarily make the same conclusion with violent cartoons that are advertised toward this age group. According to USA Today, the TV shows this study classifies safer viewing for 3 to 4 year olds to watch at night are Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer and Curious as they not only help children to sleep better, they also help with learning and social skills. The study also did not alter the children’s time spent watching television or how late they stayed up, only the types of shows they viewed.
As I have explained before we all need to power down before bedtime and that is especially important for children. Studies have found that kids that use any type of media right before bedtime (TV, video games) were more likely to have trouble falling asleep than those that shut down all electronics at least an hour before they went to bed. An additional note about light emitted from electronics and sleep; that a significant body of research now points to television as a key factor in reducing levels of the hormone melatonin, the substance that regulates the body’s internal clock and also governs the speed at which puberty develops.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain which plays a key role in regulating the body’s internal clock. Doctors suggest that the light emitted by television screens may play a part in suppressing melatonin levels in the blood, which may disrupt the sleep patterns of children and teens as well as the age at which they enter puberty. The ever-earlier onset of puberty has puzzled researchers since it began in the 1950s, precisely when televisions became widely owned. So start encouraging your children to watch less TV, especially close to bedtime. Setting up a nightly routine now will help them establish healthy sleep habits that will continue through their teen years and into adulthood.
Parenting.com has some basic guidelines how to encourage kids to watch less TV :
Set reasonable limits — and stick to them. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours a day of quality “screen time,” which includes TV, DVDs, and computers, for kids ages 2 and up, and no screen time at all for kids under 2. Of course, enforcing such a limit is easier said than done — especially when your child’s fussing, the phone’s ringing, and dinner’s on the stove. Some extra TV time won’t hurt (just make sure it’s a trusted program or DVD — and it’s preferable to a mom at her wit’s end. But it’s good to remember that you can create downtime with other activities — dolls, drawing, blocks — that will engross kids in a healthier way.
Don’t put a TV in your child’s room. “You’re asking for trouble,” says James Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, an organization that helps parents make informed decisions about kids’ entertainment. “It’s best in the family room so you can be involved in your child’s viewing.”
Have your child ask your permission before he turns on the tube so you’re aware of when he’s watching.
Watch programs together as much as possible so you know what he’s being exposed to and you can answer any questions he might have.
Make viewing time special by having regular family TV or movie nights.
Talk to other parents. If you keep in mind that all families are different, other parents can be a good resource for ideas and support. You may also set similar rules in your homes, which will reassure you when your child visits them.
Don’t depend solely on a friend’s recommendation for what’s appropriate (despite the advice above) unless you know that she shares your values. Sites such as commonsensemedia.org and kids-in-mind.com provide detailed accounts of violence, bad language, and sexuality on DVDs and videos.
Get your partner on the same page so you can enforce rules consistently. At the very least, agree that you’ll consult before giving your child the TV green light.
Be a good example. It’s difficult to talk to your kids about curtailing TV if you have the set on all the time. If your spouse likes to watch, encourage him to do so in a private area, if possible, so the TV doesn’t disrupt others.
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