Telling TV time: Tips for limiting television and screen time for tots to teens

"Daddy, the doctor said no more than two hours of television a day," my 6-year-old going on 12 says to her father yesterday. Apparently while giving me a chance to rest and get to feeling better, the television became an inactive part of the girl's day. Or maybe my daughter was just sharing her knowledge with random comments that she heard days ago, and is just now processing and telling dad about. But she is right, there is too much television being watched in our house despite my best efforts to find other activities and to limit their TV time. So, what is a busy household to do to make sure that everyone knows the TV and technology rules and follows them?

Family meetings. My husband works a great deal. It may be days before the children see him because he is gone from morning until night. That means that sometimes mom puts rules into place that he is not aware of (like the no Youtube.com rule). As a result the children are able to do the end around when it comes to "mom's" rules when dad is the only parent available to them. Calling a family meeting gives me a chance to catch him on up the new rules, for these kids that are growing way too fast.

Post the rules. Yes, I am resorting to a poster, just like in the classroom. It states the TV rules, plus a few technology rules thrown in for good measure. This way we can point to the rules and remind both parents and children that we established television and computer times as well as how long those items can be used. Sometimes poster board can be mom's best friend.

Screening screen time. I have made a special folder on the computer that has "shortcuts" to the mom approved and tested websites that the children can use. The children use the folder to find those things that they are allowed to do, and no TV or technology (computer) time unless there is an adult in the room.

Talk about TV. Actively involve your children in talking about what is happening on the television. Today's discussion was "real" or "animated" along with "fake" and "acting." Not only does it help your child's vocabulary, and give you a chance to monitor what they are watching but you are able to teach them about what is real and not after they see it on the screen.

Pull out the poker chips. Until we get a good handle on how much is too much, it's time to give the girls a visual aid that helps them know how much television or screen time is available to them. They get x number of chips for the day, with each chip equaling 30 minutes. When TV or computer time is on the schedule then they cash in their chips for time. Don't have poker chips? Try creating them on our computer using card stock and then laminating them.

Screen time and schedules. Create a schedule of available screen times including video games, television or computers. Make sure that meals and homework times are screen-free on the schedule.

The screen scene. Avoid having a television, computer or video games in your child's bedroom, because we all know that can lead to sneaking, and sort of defeats the purpose of sending them to their room. This way you can also see what they are doing as they do it in the common areas and monitor usage and times. Avoid snacking or eating in front of the screen, and make sure you set the screen scene example, too.

Invent ideas. Create a list of alternative ideas. Place them on the poster or in a cookie jar. This way when the kids say "I'm bored," "I want to watch TV" or "I can't think of anything to do" you have the chance to provide them with an inventive idea from board game to activities. Who knows -- maybe you could even slip some chores in there!

Be flexible. There may be times when there is a special movie or program that the family would like to enjoy. Some parents make it a reward, while others just adjust the schedule. However you decide to handle it, remember sometimes there are special things you make time to watch, your children may have things they like to see, too.

TV time -- just one more reason to be excited about going back to school. Now, I have to go turn the TV off. Their 30 minutes are up.

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