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Are your kids watching too much TV?

Television can become a replacement for family interaction. When TV programs dominate the evening routine, it is likely that family dynamics suffer. Children need to develop relationship skills. The place our children first learn the verbal craft of interacting is at home. Television can decrease interactions with one another, and stunt the development of our family relationships.

Using television as a relaxation tool, while seemingly benign, can encourage passive retreat instead of engagement in family. A kind of "hypnotism" can result which promotes withdrawal from advertisement relationships and passive entertainment as the answer to a stressful day. Too much television or too rigid a viewing schedule can reduce intimacy in the family. Not only can we become too "zombied out" to share our feelings, but we run the danger of turning to the neon light of the screen instead to our family members for nourishment.

TV entertainment can become addictive because it can be used for instant diversion from negative feelings of pain, sadness, inadequacy or even boredom. But, like any addiction, engaging in the behavior results in decreased pain in the short run, yet leaves you no closer to resolving these feelings or developing yourself in the long run. Instead, things that are "bothering" you are merely suppressed and temporarily forgotten. Coping or finding answers may be put on hold permanently.

Yet, it is possible that watching TV can also be used as a springboard for communication and sharing opinions and ideas, if you as parents encourage your children to do so. Naturally, this means choosing a show that might encourage your youngsters to express themselves, their views and ideas. Time must be allotted for sharing afterwards, not just between commercials! One of the best ways to encourage discussion is to videotape the show so that you can pause it for family discussion and interaction.

Another way to enhance television viewing with family interactions is to comment on the script, writing, camera shots, direction and acting of the piece, WHILE IN PROGRESS. I learned the value of this approach from my husband whose career is in video and computer animation. He has taught me that commercials can be a work of art! Imagine my surprise. Yet, our son and daughter found that TV could be an interactive event in the family. That is, if you do not take it too seriously! Ongoing comments about plot twists or "good" or "bad" acting might disturb some viewers. But it is great family fun!

Use good judgment. Develop a time and place for active participation in family games, music or other enjoyable activities. Leave the TV off on a night you would usually watch it, just to see what happens!

You may be pleasantly surprised to find that you learn more about your partner or your children. Try reading a book for relaxation. Reading material may prove easier to put down if a family member wants to interact with you.

Remember, emotional availability is the key to healthy family relationships. Be sure that the TV watching you do supports rather than inhibits family bonding and communication!

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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