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.”
When You Read, You Earn Points
“For every chapter read you earn points. These points can be converted to TV time, video time or computer time. A sheet must be generated to keep track of the chapters and points earned and used.”
“My 5-year-old loves to play games on the computer so I put a timer next to him, set the time and when the timer buzzes, time’s up!”
Get the Popcorn Ready for Movie Night
“Whether it is summertime when school is out or during the school year, I regulate my daughter’s TV watching. We do not watch TV during the week. Every Friday Bianca gets to pick a favorite movie to watch. We call it movie night! Sometimes we even have popcorn or snacks. This gives her something to look forward to. During the summer she has a reading challenge. She will read 20 books before the school year starts. She also writes a little bit about each story that she has read which will help her to remember.”
Just Don’t Subscribe
“We don’t subscribe to cable TV or have a satellite dish. We get a total of four channels. I thought I would miss having cable TV, but I don’t. My kids rarely watch TV – by choice. There isn’t ever anything on to watch, except for public TV and then I don’t mind them watching for a while. It’s really nice that I don’t have to regulate their TV time, and we don’t seem to have that problem in our house.
“The other day we were heading to the swimming pool, but my sister’s kids didn’t want to go. My 10-year-old asked me why the cousins didn’t want to come swimming. I didn’t know why. My 10-year-old then said they probably got a new Xbox game. Then my 12-year-old thanked me for not getting them an Xbox and the other two agreed! Boy was that nice to hear. It’s not always easy to stick to your guns when everyone else is getting, getting, getting. Believe me, they asked for one, but I believe it is better for them to use their imaginations for playtime, so we never gave in. They find plenty of things to do to fill their day and we don’t have the influences the TV brings into the home.
“When they are on the computer, it’s in our kitchen where I can watch what they are doing. I rarely have to tell them to get off the computer, because they don’t play for hours on end. We also have a Sega game that we inherited, but when I tell them it’s time to get off, they finish the game and get off. They know the other option is to get it taken away.
“When they are older, closer to high school age, we may consider getting a satellite dish, but right now, life is good!”
Find Alternatives to TV and the Computer
“We monitor the time our son spends watching the television and surfing the Net by allowing him intermittent periods of time for each. Each day, he is allowed to watch TV for about two hours and play on the computer for about an hour (we do not own a Nintendo or Playstation). In between those times, we schedule play dates, pool parties, trips to the local children’s museum, walks with the dog, reading minutes, craft time, etc. We also play lots of games like Yahtzee, Scrabble and Memory. It sounds like a lot of effort, which it is, but well worth it! Putting this effort in, and minimizing TV/computer/Gameboy time creates a higher cognitive ability in every aspect of life.”
Chores First, Screen Time Later
“I am a Montana mother, with 2 boys ages 11 and almost 13. Both were on a course of action that was truly hopeful that I would allow them to become couch potatoes and watch TV all day long just as soon as school was out. I allowed them two days of ‘down time’ (it was the weekend anyway); then I insisted they start earning some of their own money this summer. My husband is a school teacher, and so our income level drops dramatically every summer, life gets tougher and we all have to do our parts. I thought this would help them to understand the value of a dollar earned.
“They then became hopeful that they could go out and mow a lawn for two hours, then spend the rest of the day recuperating from their ordeal. I have since advised them that the following restrictions are in order: When they wake, they will eat their breakfast (without TV), clean up their mess and dress. They will then do any lawn mowing that needs to be done, if not that then they need to address other issues like our own lawn for which they do not get paid to mow, cleaning up their rooms, helping me with some of my housework, etc. If all their work is done, then they are allowed to play outside. If, in the evening when the day is done, I feel they have had sufficient exercise, I will allow them two hours of TV…either movies, favorite shows or TV games, their choice. If I feel they have not had sufficient exercise, they will not be allowed TV, and they will have to break open a book (Will someone report me for child abuse?) or write a letter (Should I be flogged?) or play a board/card game or whatever activity they feel they would like to do sans the TV. So far, this is working, much to my surprise and delight. It helps that I was requiring them to watch the TV Series, ‘Honey, We Are Killing The Kids,’ which helped to reinforce most of the concepts that I was wanting to practice, as they were able to see that I was not alone in my opinions on healthy viewing habits as well as eating habits.”
Another Look at Screen Time
“I have an 11-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter just getting ready for her first year of school. We live in Arizona (very hot, limits outside activity) and I can say that although I do agree that children need to remain physically fit, I disagree with all the negative attitudes and limiting the time children spend on the computer.
In this day and age, is there any career of substantial income out there that does not include the use of computers? We make our children take algebra and limit the use of the world’s largest source of information from our children to grow with? Have we become mere drones that we are unable to see that the use of a computer is the single most beneficial skill children use that will stay and grow with them until they reach an adult age? Are we insane? To use a computer is to learn to read (for our younger children. The use of the Internet is like owning and reading daily that Encyclopedia Britannica set our parents could never afford to buy from that door-to-door salesman when we were their age! It’s the entire world right at their finger tips and the information highway they ride is virtually limitless.
If we must stifle our children from growth, then perhaps we can learn a little more about computers ourselves and take advantage of the ever popular features easily available everywhere and through many different software makers today called “parent control” and simply block certain sites we would rather they not visit. We can even block them from email or instant messaging, but is it really necessary to block them from learning all together so they can run outside and play a game of ball that will no doubt not improve their finances 20 years from now? Isn’t it our job as parents to make our kids smarter and better than us? Maybe some of us are simply too programmed to actually see that through. I for one take pride in watching my kids tell me crazy off-the-wall stuff about different planets or how many miles an hour you are going when you break the speed of sound. I’m not going to limit the knowledge my children are exposed to to only that knowledge I myself already have!
Each day my children grow so muchmore than the resources I had available as a child and I know I have done my job as a mother in making my children smarter than I was. Haven’t we been doing what our parents did for too long now? Why shouldn’t our kids make a better world for their children than we did for them? Isn’t it time someone spoke out and stopped simply following suit, not exactly sure why? Children will grow just as much as their parents will allow… ‘Sky’s the limit’ unless of course the sky exceeds the allotted one hour learning limit time as preapproved by your parents?
I’m not saying it’s OK to spend so much time on the computer playing the same stupid game over and over and over again either, don’t get me wrong. What I am saying is maybe we should take a second look at actual retinal damage vs. brain and knowledge growth before simply assuming computers are bad for kids.
And if the retina studies really are that bad, go buy a screen cover that blocks quite a bit of that damage without blocking the brain input.”
The Last Word
“My three daughters are allowed to watch one hour of TV in the morning while they wake up and cuddle with me, and one hour in the evening as a family. TV is something that is a privilege in our home and they know that they have to earn TV time – it is the first thing to go if something is being taken away. We all feel TV is entertaining but I just want them to be able to be creative and play together rather than expect something to entertain them all the time. We have a saying in our house that says, ‘Too much TV makes our brain (fill in the blank)’ and then we pause and my oldest will say ‘dumb.’ It is kind of our answer when they don’t want to turn the TV off. Although, one day I asked my 3-year-old (then she had just turned 2) and I said ‘Honey, too much TV makes our brain…’ and with a huge wide smile and eyes shining she said ‘Happy!’ We may have some difficulty getting her to turn off the TV.”