"We've found that parents start to cede control over television once their kids start school -- which is way too early -- and monitor less and less as kids reach adolescence," says Shari Barkin, MD, chief of pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "That's distressing because the evidence of TV's negative impact is overwhelming." Hundreds of studies have linked TV viewing to all kinds of problems among kids: Commercials help make them selfish and materialistic, not to mention overweight; racy, provocative shows lead them to have sex at an earlier age; violence onscreen encourages aggressive, sometimes dangerous behavior in real life.
Trying to micromanage an adolescent's viewing habits, however, is likely to backfire. "When you issue rules and ultimatums, kids feel like you're speaking down to them, and they'll watch what they want when you're not around," says James Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that provides reviews for parents of TV, movies, and other entertainment (commonsensemedia.org). But there are effective strategies parents can adopt. Family Circle took a look at the latest research on the ways TV harms our children -- and gathered expert advice on how you can help them.