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Take control of TV time

With the start of the school year comes the new fall TV lineup, and a national group called TV Watch is reminding parents and grandparents that now is a good time to brush up on content ratings and parental controls.

"A new school year means new challenges in the classroom, updated preferences on television and a new television lineup," says Jim Dyke, head of TV Watch. Take the time to update your family's television rules and learn how to enforce those decisions, he says.

To help parents manage and control their family's viewing, TV Watch encourages parents to learn what new shows are airing this fall, review the content ratings and use parental controls as needed.

The TV Parental Guideline Ratings System, modeled after movie ratings, can be found at www.tvguidelines.org.

TV Watch, a group of 21 people and organizations, has created a guide to help parents understand basic tools and information, and take parents through the process of activating parental controls. "Television Tools for Parents 101" is available at www.televisionwatch.org.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids under age 2 not watch any television, and suggests limited viewing for older children. Under age 2, the group says, talking, singing, reading, listening to music and playing are far more important to a child's development than any TV show.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests that parents not allow children to watch long blocks of television, and that parents help them select individual programs. Choose shows that meet your child's developmental needs. Children's shows on public TV are appropriate, the group says.

A recent study by University of Virginia researchers found that watching a snippet of a fast-paced cartoon negatively affected the attention spans of the 4-year-olds they tested. Watching a more realistic cartoon on educational television or drawing pictures did not affect their ability to focus or remember.

The researchers randomly divided 60 4-year-olds into three groups. One group watched a nine-minute clip of "SpongeBob SquarePants," a second watched a nine-minute clip of a PBS show "Caillou," and the third group drew pictures for nine minutes instead of watching television.

Parents should be aware that fast-paced television shows could impair young children's attention spans, at least temporarily, the researchers say.

Similarly, in another of hundreds of studies on the effect television has on preschoolers, research by Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle found that television exposure in children ages 1 to 3 is associated with attention problems at the start of elementary school. The study said that each hour of television watched per day at ages 1 to 3 increases the risk of attention problems by almost 10 percent at age 7.

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Parenting tip

More kids are getting their first cellphone before high school, says Sally Greenberg, head of the National Consumers League. The market for first-time cellphones had been teenagers entering high school, but more kids are getting their first phone in middle school. A parental guide to cellphone use among tweens is on the league's website at www.nclnet.org/technology.

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