How many hours spent watching TV take place each day? According to WebMD, the amount of screen time for kids has increased since 1999 to over seven hours a day. If you factor in time spent at school with time spent in front of some sort of device with a screen, it’s probably no wonder that childhood obesity is a major issue in the USA. After all, when would kids have time to exercise?
Of course, not all those seven or more hours is spent in front of the television. Today’s children have many – probably too many – screen time choices: computers, iPads and Kindles, gaming systems and so much more. With so many options, how can parents manage screen time for children in an effective and appropriate manner?
Here’s some tips for limiting the amount of time your children spend in front of a screen by offering them attractive alternatives and setting realistic guidelines.
While most can agree seven or more hours per day is probably too much screen time, how does a parent decide how much is appropriate?
A good rule of thumb is to tailor your guidelines to the American Association of Pediatrics’ recommendations – two hours per day of screen related entertainment for school aged children – and to your unique family situation.
Obviously, if your children are spending more time watching television, playing video games or using the computer than two hours, cutting back may cause some problems. You may have to cut back gradually until you reach your chosen level, or you could decide that for your family and your circumstances, spending more than two hours per day is acceptable. For instance, some families allow kids to earn more screen time by doing chores or achieving other pre-determined goals
The key is to decide what limits you want as the parental authority and bring the kids along based on your style of parenting. Here’s some techniques to try:
Set a Good Example
If you typically turn the television on the minute you get home and leave it on for the rest of the evening whether you are watching it or not, change your behavior. Turn it off.
If the family guidelines call for two hours of screen time, limit yourself to the same two hours you expect your children to observe. Remember, more is caught than taught, and actions speak louder than words. You can lecture endlessly about the need for spending less time online or watching television, but if the majority of your time is spent in front of the television or computer, your words will have little or no effect on your children’s behavior.
Rearrange the Furniture
Does your child really need a television, gaming system or computer in his or her bedroom? Disregarding the temptation for children to sneak out of bed and play games or watch TV instead of sleeping, how well can you monitor their online activities with the equipment in remote locations? Parental filters are wonderful tools, but are they enough protection for your children?
Most experts agree that placing computers and TVs in a central area of the house is a good way to manage screen time for children.
Provide Attractive Alternatives
If you simply “unplug” your children without offering them alternative activities, you’ll probably be hearing “I’m bored!” or “What should I do now?” a lot more often. Here’s some tips on fun family activities that make good replacements for electronic entertainment:
Family Game Nights
Dust off those board games or decks of playing cards and have an impromptu family game night. Playing card games or board games is the perfect way to teach younger children how to share and take turns. These kinds of games encourage good sportsmanship and help develop critical thinking skills and impulse control. In addition to these educational benefits, however, they are fun!
Go on Field Trips
What kid doesn’t love a field trip? While you probably don’t want to pile the kids into the car and head off to a museum or other location after a hard day at work, planning short day trips or weekend jaunts to local attractions is a good way to entertain, educate and motivate your kids.
Visit the Library
Trips to the library can be a great rainy day activity to amuse grumpy kids. Most have extensive video libraries where you can borrow movies for free. While your goal is to limit screen time, if they are going to be watching movies during their allotted timeframe, why not offer them a wider range of choices than those available on television? If you feel like you just can’t watch one more episode of Barney, Dora the Explorer or Sponge Bob, a trip to the library could save your sanity.
In addition to movies, most public libraries have special programs in addition to being a great place to find and borrow books. They might offer a Lego club for elementary students and provide tubs and tubs of construction blocks for kids to create with, or crafting clubs for teens where they can learn to knit, crochet, sew or do other crafts. You might be amazed by what you’ll find available when you check out your local library.
Get Reacquainted With Nature
Walk, jog or ride bikes and enjoy some outdoor activities. Little kids might enjoy going on treasure hunts to find hidden treasures in their backyards, while older kids might like being more competitive and seeing who can run the most laps around the yard or the neighborhood. The type of activity doesn’t really matter as much as the activity itself, because when you get your kids up and moving, they are improving their health.
Too many hours spent watching TV can erode family relationships and cause problems at school or home. Limiting screen time for children allows parents to teach kids how to manage their time wisely and set appropriate limits on their activities. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Yu, Winnie, “TV and Kids: How to Cut Screen Time,” WebMD
TV addict image by Annalog85 under royalty free license via SXC
Family Time image by ba1969 under royalty free license via SXC