How to Cut Your Children’s Screen Time: Top Tips
Most adults concede that their children watch too much television. Few people do anything about it, however, and even fewer are aware of how beneficial the results of limiting TV time might be. Harvard Research found a connection between TV watching and obesity more than 25 years ago, and, since then, evidence has simply reinforced the connection, but research has also found that cutting TV time to under two hours per day can help weight control among children. Given that television is also associated with issues from aggressive behavior to depression and lethargy, it’s time we all cut back on our kids’ screen time. Remember screens include everything from TV, videos, and DVDs to computers, tablets, video games and handheld devices is key, so laying down the law and implementing a new maximum of two hours per day will not make you popular. For your children’s healthy mental, physical, and social development, you owe it to them, however. Here are some ways to make the new rule stick:
Be a Good Role Model
You can’t expect your children to peel themselves away from their screens, if you spend all your free time in front of one. Pick the shows you really want to watch and avoid channel surfing. Let your kids see you switch off the TV when your show is over, and make sure they see you engaged in more productive hobbies like reading or exercising. Don’t check your cell phone or laptop every time you are notified of a text or email. If possible, check your notifications when your children are out of the room. It’s rude and sets a poor example to interrupt a conversation with your child as soon as your phone makes a noise.
Set a Screen Schedule
You don’t have to go cold turkey and throw the TV out: Simply set a schedule of approved viewing times and stick to it. Your children will find it easier if they know that they can watch one show after school and one after dinner, for example. Watch shows with them and discuss them with your children afterward. Talking about what happens onscreen discourages mindless viewing and helps your child to be aware of the messages that are being relayed to them through the media.
Offer Better Alternatives
Play board games with your family, visit the library, go the park—whatever activities your children enjoy, make sure to prioritize them now that screens are not the go-to option during down time. Stock up on whatever equipment is required and commit to joining in with them in their games. Yes, getting down on the floor and playing with bricks might not be high point of your day, but you’ll be glad you did when they turn 13 and are still prepared to have a conversation with you.
Make Meal Time Family Time
Turn off the TV during family meals and ban all cell phones and other devices from the table. This media blackout applies to parents too. Instead of checking your email, talk to your children. Find out what went on in school, suggest places to go or things to do for your next TV-free family activity. Ideally, you should have family meals together every day, but strive to eat together a minimum of three times a week. Families who eat together tend to communicate better, making it easier for your children to understand and (eventually) accept your new policy on screens.
Bedrooms are Screen-Free Zones
Remove all TVs and computer screens from the bedrooms—and that includes yours. Screens should be in central living areas only.
Discuss TV Advertising with Older Children
Educate your kids about how they are being manipulated by TV advertisers. Show them how hard marketers work to get them to favor junk food over healthier options, for example. This can prompt really good family discussions about the influence of the media and the importance of remaining informed.
Be a Parent
You won’t be popular when you start putting limits on your children’s screen time. Remember that you are the adult in the situation and that it is your job as a parent to encourage healthy behaviors, however. Remind your family that what you are doing is for their long-term good. Be firm and know that your efforts will be rewarded.