HomeAcademics & ActivitiesMedia Matters

Bright Ideas from Our Readers: Regulating Screen Time

Our readers share their tips for cutting down on time in front of the TV or computer.

By GreatSchools Staff

Several parents told us that they limit TV and screen time. Others said they reward their children for reading and/or good behavior by allowing them to watch TV or spend time at the computer. Still others worked hard to find alternatives to lure their children away from the screen. Here's a sampling of what they had to say:

Let's Make a Deal

"My twin 9-year-old stepdaughters and I have a deal. They have to read 30 minutes for every 30 minutes of screen time (TV, electronic games and computer games). They are only allowed a maximum of two hours of TV per day. I have found that just getting them started reading results in more than 30 minutes at a time. They often get wrapped up in a book and wind up reading for one to two hours a day and forget all about TV. It also helps to have active neighborhood kids. They would prefer to play outside with them on bikes, scooters, or with balls than to be inside on nice days."

They've Got To Earn Their Screen Time

"My daughter is 9 years old and going into the fifth grade in September. Throughout the summer as well as school vacations, Paige has to earn her TV or computer time. For each hour of reading she does she can watch one 30-minute TV program (approved) or spend 30 minutes on the Internet. For each chore she does assigned or voluntarily she receives 15 minutes of screen time (TV or computer). Outstanding reports from camp counselors or neighbors about exemplary behavior earn her a movie of her choice from her DVD collection."

"I am the mother of two children, ages 5 and 7. They earn screen time by reading. For each book they read they earn one TV show or 20 minutes of computer time. I let them choose the books. If they are choosing only easy books I encourage them to read something more challenging, but if they are reading and having fun I don't complain. Reading is reading! I still limit their time in front of any screen to two hours a day."

"I am from Washington and I have two boys. The way my husband and I handle screen time is we only allow electronics after dinner and the boys have to earn their screen time by doing chores without mom or dad asking them to. They can only have two hours of screen time a day but can split the time between two acceptable choices if they want. This seems to work quite well and the boys know exactly when they will be able to watch TV or play on the computer and how to get it."

"My son has to set the timer to 45 minutes when he plays videos games. When the timer rings....that's it for the day. Also, when he plays videos, he must also do something active outside for 45 minutes (i.e. ride his bike, play basketball. Next to the video game is a small trampoline. The kids jump on it when they are waiting for their turn to play."

"The house rules are TV before breakfast is OK, but none afterwards. During the holidays the TV is off until they would normally return home from school/ child care. Then they can have an hour to recharge their batteries if they want it and that's it. Although when the weather is bad, they are allowed a little more earlier in the afternoon."

They Can Trade No Screen Time for Other Activities

"1. I just tell my daughter, for every half-hour you are not on the computer, you get five minutes of telephone talk with your friends.

2. For every half-hour you are not looking at TV, you get 10 minutes of hanging out with your friends.

3. For every half-hour you are not listening to music on your compact disc or ipod, you get 15 minutes that can add up to spend the night with your best friend.

4. If she isn't on the computer (myspace), TV or ipod for two days straight, she gets to go to one amusement park that Saturday and she has a choice of the two amusement park season passes we, as parents, bought. It can be fun because we have the upper hand (adults) because in some time in our lives, we have been there where the kids are trying to get to.

5. I also have been teaching her how to cook her favorite foods that she likes, how to sew, wash clothes, fill out employment application, dance, grocery shopping, paying bills, writing checks, car wash, look at family pictures and telling the stories behind those pictures, every little thing that I can think of that is in a fun way, but living your life and being responsible at the same time without putting out any expense.

I try to think of the things she really likes to do and then give her the time in exchange. She keeps up with the the half-an-hour/minutes log. Always use what the children really like to do."

Comments from readers

"Thank You Very Much."
"I like the ideas mentioned above. The idea of 'earning' screen time makes sense. I think it helps the kids understand that it's a privilege and not a God-given right. I also like the opportunity to trade in screen time for other activities. I also have my own practical tip on how to manage screen time for my kids. Let me know if you have any other tried and true methods that have worked for you."
"In response to the parent who feels that lots of computer time will benefit her children by making them smarter: I know several very smart people who are neither financially successful nor happy. I also know some people of average intellegence who are very much of both. To have as your parenting goal to make your children smarter than you are is very narrow-minded. Every parent's goal should be to draw out their child's stregnths whatever they might be, to help your child develop habits of good physical mental, and social health, empathy towards others, and putting their best effort towards whatever they are doing. My personal opinion is that most children today will not have a problem with the computer skills required for their future job- computers are so integrated into their life, even if parents restrict thier screen time. While I am definitely pro-education, being able to spout off all kinds of information seems of little value in the big picture of life."
"After trying almost everything in the book, I called the cable company and took it off except the basic 20 channels. Now my kids do their homework immdiately, read more and play. As for trying to build skills with computers they do very well and play chess. Someone talked about making kids smarter. Well, you can't make kids smarter, either they are or they aren't. But you can give them problem solving skills like playing and competing in chess that will last a lifetime. Playing a sport that will make them take care of their bodies and burn energy. Take them to church so the give thank to their creator. Make the a well rounded person!"
"An Alternative In our home, we are Christians and we control TV time in 2 ways. First, by leaving the Channel on a Christian Station like Day Star or TBN. and secondly by making sure that only me or my husband have the remote controls. We know how many remote controls we have in the house and only me or my husband keep them. This helps to take my children's mind from TV. Because even if they put it on, they have only one Channel to watch and after a while, they get tired of it and decide to do something else. I have read many of the previous ideas given here and I think it is time for me to implement some points or rewards for various this too."
"Thank you for the 'Another Look' perspective!! I totally agree! Living in a high tech state--I don't want my kids to be computer-illiterate or screen-phobic. They play educational games and do photography work on the internet. There is much creativity out there, if you just look. To be physically fit is important-so we must balance that, but to equate all 'screen time' is wrong. And we have digital on-demand cable, and my girls often seek out home organization programs, cooking shows, and other kinds of how-to programs. Would anyone argue that those are bad for you?"
"Kudos to parents who limit TV time. I admire one co-worker for not having cable or satellite. Everyone in the family reads. They have 4 children, all boys and all are doing excellent in school and extra curricular activities. All the ideas above are good and very helpful. I think I'm on the route to getting cable turned off for myself and the children in my house."
"Thank you for a truly informative article! I am always trying to think of ways to keep my seven-year-old son from too much screen time. Many times I think I am failing. However, after reading your article, I realized some of things I am doing are just what other parents are doing to limit screen time. Using a timer and encouraging reading. I also try to schedule activities for my son to have social time with other peers and friends. (My son is an only child.) He has actually begun to ask to go to the playground or have friends over. Sometimes (!) he doesn't even pick up the video games for one or two days. I also loved the idea of the small trampoline next to the video game. I have also begun to search out TV games that require physical action to play such as soccer, baseball, light sabers. My son plays for half and hour and is sweaty and energized. THANK YOU! These types of articles and ideas have supported my in my constant battle with technology. I think there is a definite place for technology in our children's world. The women who wrote about the educaiton it brings is correct. I think there is much our kids can learn from technology and the internet. However, they are children and not little adults. As such, they need supervision and limits. They do not always have the ability to see 'the whole picture' of their behavior and actions on their futures. Thanks again for your article."