Have you noticed that your kids are becoming more attached than ever to television, video games and texting? And the season doesn’t seem to matter. During summer, with more free time and fewer structured activities, it’s easy to turn to electronics for stimulation. In winter, the shorter daylight hours and long, dark evenings allow less time for outdoor play.
The latest Nielsen figures indicate that children are watching more TV than ever, with ages 2 to 5 watching over 32 hours a week. While television time for children aged 6 to 11 drops slightly, due to school hours, it’s still more than 28 hours a week. That is, on the average, greater than 4 hours a day. These numbers include VCR and game console usage but not time on the computer or playing hand-held video games.
Are you concerned about these staggering numbers? Child healthcare advocates certainly are. They warn that this increased television watching may be linked to two significant childhood issues: obesity and delayed language development. For the past decade, parents thought that educational baby videos would help their infants develop language skills but, instead, studies found that infants who watch these kinds of videos actually learn fewer vocabulary words than those who don’t.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only an hour or two of quality TV and videos for children older than 2 years and none for those below that age. What can you do, as a parent, to wean your children from excess hours of television and video games? Here are 7 tips to get you started as you craft a plan that works for your family.
1. It’s not a simple process, but you can start by talking about why it’s important to reduce your kids’ electronic screen time. Help them see that watching less TV is not a punishment, but rather an important part of their growth. Convince them to buy into the value of unplugging, and you can all brainstorm together about other stimulating activities.
2. If you are a Sandwiched Boomer, single parent or working mother, you’re likely already stressed by all the responsibility and may be tempted to use television as a baby sitter. Instead, encourage your children to help you while you are doing chores around the house – bring them into the kitchen to make dinner, let them fold their own laundry, create a game to see who can straighten up faster. Talk with your kids while you’re doing your tasks and make them a part of the process.
3. Set aside time for them to play outside with their friends. Learn more about afterschool activities in which your kids can participate – at school, in your local community center, at the park. Check into summer reading competitions at your local library. Even with cutbacks due to the poor economic climate, you can find available creative and physical outlets.
4. Encourage your children to read instead of watching television or playing video games. With young children, read to them at night before bedtime. Think about how you can make reading more interactive and interesting for your older kids. Set an example – have a good book of your own handy so that you can sit down with them and read together. Help set up a children’s book club for them and their friends.
5. Be a positive role model. Try not to leave the TV on as a background noise or a distraction. And don’t watch TV yourself just to fill the time. When you watch only a few particular and favorite shows, your kids will better understand the restrictions you set for them.
6. Include your children in planning which shows they will watch and when. Remind them to limit their screen time to only the specific ones they have chosen. Set the amount of time they can play video games, hand-held or on the TV – perhaps specify days or times for this activity. Make up a chart so they can plan for the week. And have them be accountable by filling in the times they have watched.
7. Set family rules about what is and is not acceptable in terms of TV and video game usage. Let your kids know that you plan to be consistent in enforcing them. You can even buy a TV/video game time management tool that allows you to implement the time limits you have set with your children.
You may find that, as in any dramatic change, it takes many baby steps to change your kids’ television viewing habits and video game playing. When you feel overwhelmed by the thought of unplugging them and limiting their screen time, remind yourself that it is a process. Celebrate the progress that you’re making to create a richer and more interactive environment for your children.
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