How to Encourage Your Children to Reduce Screen Time

Children are constantly surrounded by electronic media: tablets, computers, phones, TVs and gaming systems. They can be valuable tools, but all too often the use gets out of hand and becomes an all-consuming habit. It is up to parents to ensure a well rounded upbringing that includes but is not dominated by screen time. Ideally, overuse never becomes an issue in the first place. But if it has, it will take time and patience to bring about a more balanced lifestyle.


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    Examine your own media use. You will not be successful in cutting down your child's video game time if you are up late at night playing video poker and browsing Facebook. Children are very smart about "do as I say, not as I do." Ask yourself the following questions:
    • How much time do you spend on computers and television?
    • What are you doing during this time?
    • Is what you are doing worthy? For instance, hours of playing World of Warcraft probably is not as beneficial to your life as using the computer to come up with ideas for your daughter's Girl Scout camping trip and coordinate the parents.
    • How much do you really enjoy what you do and watch? There is nothing wrong with using media in moderation, but sometimes it becomes a habit more than a real joy. For example, do you watch a few shows that you really enjoy, or a lot of mediocre television?
    • What would you do with the extra time? Excessive use of media ties up a lot of your time, which could be spent in a more balanced way. Would you get outside and exercise more, maybe join a softball league, read a good book, spend time with your stepchildren, or even just get to bed on time?
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    Commit to a Media Limit as a Family. Work together as a family to come up with a plan to use media thoughtfully, with limits.What works for your family may not for another. Every family is different, but several guidelines that could work are:
    • No TV or game use after dinner: Computer use after dinner is limited to homework.
    • No more than one hour of computer games.
    • Television time is limited to one hour a day.
    • Television and computer games are limited to age and philosophically appropriate choices, subject to parent approval. For instance, offers free, educational video games that are also a lot of fun with no advertisements.
    • There may be exceptions to the rule, such as "Family Movie Night", or if there is a real need to watch the news, such as a weather or news emergency.
    • Screen time is linked to chores and/or homework: if these are not completed, the screen does not go on.
    • No television or computer games before school. Media tends to distract people from getting ready for the day, or make it difficult to get to the bus stop on time. There may be an exception for checking the weather on-line or e-mail to check for weather closings.
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    Provide other activities that the kids can do rather than looking at the screen. Cutting back on screen time frees up time to do other activities. However, many children (at least at first) will find it a little difficult to find new activities to do. As a parent, you can help them re-discover play and recreation with the absence of technology. Try these activities, for example:
    • Outside play or exercise. Whether some jump-rope or an evening stroll, get some fresh air.
    • Projects. If you enjoy model-building, why not see if your daughter would like to try. Or use Legos.
    • Coloring. Coloring is a soothing activity, requiring few materials. Adults have advanced coloring books and pages to try, too!
    • Play with pets. Pets require a lot of attention, and whether it is playing with the cat, teaching the dog to fetch, or spend some quality time with your hedgehog, it is good for both humans and pets.
    • Organized activities. With your time away from the game console, you may find you could join Chess Club at the library, or take a martial arts class, join 4-H, or take part in the teen fellowship group at your church.
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    Get outdoors! When families have been using media too much, it becomes a habit to just use it and stay inside. A smart way to curb these media cravings is to spend more time outside--without using your phone, of course!
    • Public parks offer the opportunity and space for families to burn energy, engage in cardiovascular activity and socialize. Bring your flying disk, swimsuit, bikes, basketball, dog, and so on!
    • If you have a recreational center, or are the member of a gym, check for times to get involved with activities. For instance, open swim times at the pool, ice rink, or climbing wall.
    • In poor weather, try the library. Most libraries offer scheduled activities for children from infants to teenagers. Just realize most libraries have computers, so have a strategy to avoid spending time on the computers there.
    • Try a walk. Even a short walk offers health benefits and allows you to socialize with your child.
    • Camp out. A camp out, even in the backyard can get everyone together without the TV or gadgets.
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    Persevere. Cutting down on media can be challenging especially considering that media is difficult, and there will be slip-ups. But celebrate meeting goals and make the process more about having real authentic fun and spending time together.
    • As much as possible, be consistent. Write them down. If one parent is OK with watching cartoons in the morning before day care, and the other one is not, you will likely have kids that are not sure exactly what the rules are.
    • Your children will probably whine and complain, but do not overreact to their complaining. No child likes for video game time to be limited. To be fair, this is something that they did not ask for and you are making the rules. So be patient and understanding about the process. Snapping at them will not get you anywhere.
    • Have a chart to keep everyone (including parents) accountable. Tracking your progress and achievements will make the process more likely to succeed.
    • Have a goal, and celebrate it. Have you gone a week staying in your "Facebook Time"? Celebrate with making pizza, going to the carnival, or other fun.

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Categories: Parenting and Technology