Watching too much TV (or sitting for too long in front of a computer or video game) is an easy trap for kids and families to fall into, and a dangerous one. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and other health problems. Help kids get more physical activity in their life by limiting their screen time. Try these suggestions and guidelines.
Make bedrooms screen-free.Keep TVs, video games, and computers in common areas, instead of kids' bedrooms. This means kids can't disappear into their rooms for hours at a time. They must share screen time with other family members, and you can keep better tabs on what they're doing and for how long.
Make the TV off-limits for certain days or hours.
Some families find that it's easiest to just keep TV and video games off on school days, during the summer
, or (for example) between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Mealtimes, in particular, should always be screen-free--and that includes Mom and Dad's BlackBerry. Rules like this keep you from having to make day-by-day or case-by-case decisions on how much TV is too much. Once kids get over their initial resistance, they'll accept this rule like any other.
Define "too much TV" for your kids.Determine how much daily or weekly screen time you're comfortable with--say, one hour per day on weekdays and two on weekends. Alert your children to this limit and explain why you're enforcing it: Too much sedentary time is truly detrimental to their health. For young children, simply say that spending too much time watching TV or playing video games isn't good for their brains and bodies. Determine the consequences for watching too much TV ahead of time.
Provide active alternatives.
Encourage kids to take walks, ride bikes, play outside, or play indoor active games
instead of watching TV. Playing with them
is often a big draw. You might also work with them to create a list of non-screen activities they enjoy, so you can all refer to it when you've had too much TV time.
Use age-appropriate incentives.Customize your screen-limiting strategies to your child's age. For preschoolers, offer distractions. If you typically let your child watch TV while you shower or prepare dinner, find an activity she can do alongside you instead (color with washable crayons on the outside of the tub, say, or tear up lettuce for a salad). For school-aged kids, make screen time a privilege that they earn (see below), and plan frequent playdates so they can't complain of "nothing to do." For teens, reserve your right to remove access to cell phones and the Internet if grades slip or household duties go undone.
Make them earn it.Require kids to earn screen time by doing homework, chores, music or sports practice, playing outside, and so on. There are many ways to set this up. You might offer tickets or chips that they have to cash in when they watch TV or play online, for example, or have them keep track of time spent on chores. Or simply rule that homework always comes first, and then any time left over can be spent on TV (set an upper limit on that leftover time, though!).
Take charge of the TV.
Make the TV work for you, not the other way around. Turn it on to watch specific shows, then turn it off--don't leave it on as background noise. Watch with your children so you can monitor the appropriateness of their choices. If you see something you don't like, speak up! Those are great teaching moments. Use a TiVo or digital video recorder to time-shift your viewing, recording shows and then playing them back when it fits your schedule. Try the Wii
or another motion-controlled game to up the activity level of video gaming (although these games shouldn't replace other, more vigorous exercise).
Be a role model.Remember that what you do sends a much more powerful message than what you say. If you flip the news on as soon as you walk in the house in the evening or check your PDA at stoplights, it's going to be much harder to enforce rules about your child's screen time.
Give your child (some) control.Allow your child some choice about what and when he watches TV, as long as he stays within your family guidelines about screen time. Try to avoid switching off the set in the middle of a show or shutting down his video game mid-level. Give warnings before time is up, and allow kids (especially little ones) to press to "off" button themselves.
Let kids be producers instead of consumers.
If your child is really into TV, movies, or video games, encourage her to flip to the other side of the screen and try making her own! Consider investing in an inexpensive, kid-friendly video camera
, then see what develops.