5 Parent-Tested Tips to Limit Kids' Screen Time
How to achieve balance in your home when TVs, iPads and other gadgets lure everyone to the couch
Today's kids are spending more time than ever sitting in front of a screen—an average of 7 and a half hours a day! Sure, televisions, computers, game consoles, and smart phones are entertaining, but too much screen time is bad for a kid’s overall health—not to mention turning young minds to mush. So how can you limit screen time without fighting with your kids?
Skip the battles and try some of these ideas to minimize the time your child spends glued to a gadget.
- Monkey See/Monkey Do: Do you spend your days toggling between the television, your smart phone, and the computer? Set a good example about limits and your kids will be more likely to follow. Have a family meeting and let everyone have a say on the amount of time that screens will be used each week. Parent coach Tina Feigal suggests that including the children in the decision is a huge factor in gaining their cooperation on respecting limits.
- Timer Tamers: Amy Wilson, of Mother Load: The Blog, uses a visual timer called the Time Timer to help her three kids (ages three to six) limit their gadget time. Unlike digital timers, a visual timer makes it easy for kids to see how much time is left. And as Wilson says, “While my children never want to listen to me when I say ‘Time's up,’ they accept the Time Timer's word for it, no questions asked.” Another product, the Bob TV Timer, can be plugged into TV’s, computers, or video games. When the time’s up, Bob turns the gadget off.
- Let ‘Em Pick: Offer kids a set amount of screen time each day and let them decide how to use it. Every day, Stephen Granade of Huntsville, Alabama. gives each of his children four stones. Each stone is equivalent to thirty minutes of screen time and his children can choose if they will use their stones to watch TV, play video games, or surf the web. This approach works perfectly for Granade and his two young children but it may not be the best approach for larger families. Lori West of Virginia Beach found that when she gave each of her five children one hour of screen time a day, they would piggyback their time by playing video games for an hour and then watching their siblings play.
- Pay to Play: Encourage kids to earn screen time by balancing it with equal amounts of reading, chores, or physical activity. Len Saunders, author of Keeping Kids Fit and father of two, suggests that for every hour of physical activity, kids earn 30 minutes of tech time. Deanne Duke, of The Crunchy Chicken, lets her kids each have 15 minutes of computer time a day. If they want more, they have to read (e.g., 10 minutes of reading for 10 minutes on the computer.) And Michelle Marasch of Plattsburg, New York gives her boys free screen time when they multi-task their viewing with family chores like folding laundry.
- Save it for the weekend: In our house, all screens stay off during the week from Monday through Friday. My girls can watch the tube or play on the computer as much as they want over the weekend— within reason. I still won’t let them spend a beautiful Saturday indoors. But it’s never been a battle. Heidi Mylo has followed a similar approach with her daughter since kindergarten. As Heidi says, “She is so used to doing without during the week, she really does not go crazy.”
Jenn Savedge (Writer, Mother, Blogger). Full-time mom, environmentalist, and author who researches and writes about the two topics that are closest to her heart: children and the environment. She is Mother Nature Network’s official “green family” blogger. As a former park ranger for the National Park Service, Jenn traveled the U.S., learning about the environment in some this country’s most breath-taking wild places.
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