CMCH Suggestions: Establish Time Limits

Research shows that when parents create rules and limits about TV, children listen.  We suggest creating limits not only for television, but for all screen-time (television, computers, and video games).  The key is to approach the issue in the same way you do seat belts or nutrition; as an expectation, not a request.  While you should discuss the reason for screen-time limits and appropriate media content with your children, these rules should not be up for negotiation.

Create a Screen-Time Budget
Some families have had success using screen-time
budgets. If kids know exactly how much time they are allowed to use media each day, they will make thoughtful choices about how to use that time. So how much time should you budget?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) makes these specific recommendations:

  • Children younger than two: No screen media
  • Children over two: Two hours or less per day

How to Do It:

Where are you starting from?  It is difficult to realistically set limits if you aren’t sure how much time your kids are currently spending in front of screens. For one week tally all screen time for each member of your family and decide where to start.

Decide what counts and what doesn't:  Some parents track homework, emails to Grandma, making scrapbooks, or blogging about service projects separately from talking to friends, checking social networking sites, or watching online videos. Think about what ideas, habits and skills you want your children to develop as you help them learn to budget their time.

You can set new rules, no matter how old your kids are: Although it is always easier to create rules when kids are very young, it is not impossible to do with any age child. Simply explain that you have new knowledge you did not have previously. Many parents had to create new rules about bike helmets when wearing one became law. Though kids resisted at first, most have accepted and embraced wearing a helmet as a “given” of being healthy and safe.

Keep screens in a family area:  By keeping TVs, computers, and video game consoles in common areas (rather than bedrooms), you can more easily keep track of time limits.  Remember that it is much easier to never put a television in your child’s room than it is to remove one that’s already there.

Make media a planned event:  Avoid using media as background noise. Carefully choose and watch a specific show, play a game, or interact with a website. Then turn it off and engage in non-media activities.

Technology can help:  Technology like TV Allowance  and WallFly shut off the television and computer when a time limit has been reached.  Mac's Parental Controls feature allows parents to set both the number of hours per day and which hours of the day their kids can use the computer.  DVRs and VCRs allow families to record episodes of TV shows to watch at a different time, if a screen-time budget has already been used up for the day.

Be sensitive to video game progress:  Some games require a player to reach a certain place before he or she can save the game. It may seem very unfair to your child if you force them to quit a game moments before they can save their progress. To avoid this situation, remind them of the rules and time limit before it arrives, and/or allow a few extra minutes to get to a checkpoint.

Screens can be unplugged:  If all else fails, remember that TVs, video game players, and computers can be unplugged and put away for a while. But don’t threaten to take away media unless you are actually ready to do so.

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