Does everyone really have one? They certainly have access. Of kids under the age of 2, 43 percent watch television every day. Two-thirds of children under 6 watch two hours of television (or DVDs) a day. At 8 years old, that figure jumps to four hours. Sixty-six percent of kids 8 and up have TVs in their rooms.
What age to start: Most doctors say no TV before age 2, when brains are rapidly developing and need interactive play. “It won’t do harm, but there’s no evidence they learn anything,” says Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital, in Boston. By ages 3 to 5, they do; cue Sesame Street.
As they grow up: There are few educational programs for school-age kids (it’s pretty much all Hannah Montana), so treat television like dessert. “Only after homework and family meals,” says Rich. As for kids watching adult shows with you? The only benefit is if it sparks a talk on sex or violence that you otherwise might skip.
Causes for concern: Aside from the obvious (bedroom scenes, knife fights), commercials are problematic. Exposure to food ads is a culprit in the connection between screen time and obesity. “You don’t see ads for broccoli,” says Rich. Watching commercials on fast-forward still counts, so use the skip function on TiVo or stick to videos that are ad-free.