Monday, April 9, 2012

Limit Screen Time

Would it surprise you to know that two to five-year-olds watch more than 32 hours of TV a week? Six to eleven-year-olds spend more hours in school, so they watch a little less TV—about 28 hour a week. (Nielsen)

What does this mean? Is it good or bad? The debate goes on.

Of course children are learning some skills their parents never had, but they are also missing out on some skills that could be very important to them—such as personal relationship skills, delayed gratification skills, and planning for solutions that may take more than 3 minutes or even three days to accomplish.

Then there is brain research that demonstrates how the brain develops differently with excessive screen time. You can learn more about this by reading any of the many books being published on this subject. You might want to do your own research on this topic.

My guess is that you know from your own wisdom and intuition that your children may be watching too much TV, but you aren’t sure what to do about it. Or, do you avoid doing something about it for any of the following reasons:

  1. You don’t like to admit that it is nice to have your children so easily entertained so you can have some time to yourself.
  2. It involves such a power struggle to get the kids to stop watching TV or playing video games and get them to do something else. It is easier to just let it go.
  3. You don’t realize that screen-time is addictive.
  4. You tell yourself all the benefits of TV watching and video game playing—“Look at all the skills my child is learning.”

There was a program on Oprah where families where challenged to give up electronics for a week, including TV. It was interesting to watch how difficult it was for parents, as well as their children, to give up all their screens. One scene was particularly difficult to watch. A five-year-old boy could hardly stand it to give up playing video games. His temper tantrums were quite dramatic. His mother shared that she was embarrassed when she realized he had been playing video games for five-hours a day and was seriously addicted. The good news was that after the whole family went through “withdrawal” symptoms, they learned to replace all the screen time with family activities that increased their family closeness and enjoyment. Watch the following video from the Today Show about one family who gave up all screens for six months.

The best example I have ever seen for regulating screen time was a family that included Mom, Dad, and five boys. These wise parents knew that screen time could interfere with family time, chore time, school time, and outdoor time. They set up a system of allowing only one computer in the family room of the house. Family members had to negotiate for time on the computer. Since it was in the family room, everyone knew what was being done on the computer. When I visited their home, I was amazed by the positive atmosphere and abundant energy. It was clear that limiting screen time had given this family the opportunity to enjoy other pleasures and learning opportunities and also brought them closer together.

This may not work for you, but the more you learn about screen addiction, the more you will realize how important it is to manage screen time so it doesn't manage you and your family.

If you are convinced that it would be a good idea to limit screen time, how do you start?

  1. Have a family meeting.
  2. Start with compliments—each member of the family sharing what they appreciate about every other member of the family.
  3. Using very few words, admit that you have made a mistake in allowing so much screen time.
  4. Allow all family members a chance to share their thoughts and feelings about this mistake.
  5. Remain kind and firm while insisting that screen time must be reduced.
  6. Get the whole family involved in a plan for reducing screen time. Part of the solutions should include things to do in place of screen time. It is more difficult to give something up when you don’t have plans for what else to do.
  7. Don’t expect it to be easy. If there is too much conflict during the first family meeting, table the item and try again the next day when everyone has had time calm down and think about solutions.
  8. If your kids are old enough, ask them to do research on the internet on the effects of too much screen time.
Many more ideas and tools can be found in the new eBook by Jane Nelsen and Kelly Bartlett: Help! My Child is Addicted to Screens. (Yikes! So Am I).


Anonymous said...

My 13 year old son with Asperger's is very addicted to the screen in general. He plays a certain game on the computer and even has his own server. We even included more screen time if he went to exercise with me once per week. Bad idea on my part, since I never follow through to take him to the gym. I am convinced that too much screen time is bad for him. But, I am honestly afraid of the fallout, or "withdrawal" period. His withdrawal may or may not be more disruptive to our family because of his Asperger's. Although, I'm guessing any kid so addicted would have a similar reaction to him. Is it a good idea to offer a replacement desirable privilege. I can't imagine what it would be for him, however. Thanks.

Kendra Martin said...

I saw your comment and wanted to find out a little more info. I have a daughter with Asperger's and I know how important screen time can be to these kids. How much time per day is your son in front of a screen? What does he do when he is not allowed to be on a computer or watching TV, etc? Is he verbally communicative? I know that there are so many different levels of functioning, and it seems to me that this could make a difference in your family's approach to screen time...but I think that there are certainly some alternatives if you feel that he is on the computer too much. Hope to hear back from you : ) Oh, by the way, does he have any other focuses...animals, cars, buildings, sports? And what is the game about that he loves to play so there something that can be taken from that as a clue to some activity that he might engage in with you?
Take care,
Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kendra, for your response. The game is Minecraft. He has online "friends" with whom he plays and "chats" while he plays. Most of them happen to live in our town, as they are friends with his only friend, a girl of the same age. He has never met them in person, though. My son goes to an online school, so he spends 6 hours per day on the computer (mostly) for that. Then, 3-4 more on the computer for Minecraft. Right now, his area of focus IS Minecraft, but it has been guinea pigs, as he has two. He is also starting horse therapy, which is once per week for an hour. If "forced" to do an outside the house activity, he gets out. Otherwise, he'd rather stay home and play the computer. He's thinking about going to a "normal" school next year, though, where he would have built in friends ~ the ones with whom he plays Minecraft. We're considering it, although the online school has been very beneficial with his stress level.

Kendra Martin said...

My daughter is 13 also, and horses have been incredible for her. We live in the country, and she has been riding on and off since she was 5. She has trouble relating to humans sometimes, especially her own age, and we found a wonderful trainer who studied with the horse whisperer - and it has been such a gift. Hope your son connects with horses too. My daughter also does school at home on the computer - she was just getting lost at public school. It does sound like your son is on the computer a lot, but with his schooling it is understandable. Also sounds like the game is providing some social skills? My daughter likes SIMS, and sometimes I sit with her and we discuss her family's interactions, etc. I try to use it as a tool. My daughter gets one hour a day Monday - Friday, and two hours a day on the weekend if all school and chores are done. Maybe he could earn "fun" screen time by doing outside activities, horse therapy, walk in the park, etc? We've had good luck with that when we felt that things were getting out of balance. Asperger's is challenging sometimes isn't it : ) You sound like a great mom! Don't think I was much help...sorry.

Kim Peterson, MA, LPC said...

I'm 100 percent with you on this!!

Anonymous said...

Kendra, thank you again. You were a lot of help. You made me think about this even more. It's nice to know that someone with a child with Asperger's is using Positive Discipline as well. I also have a son with Bipolar who just hit the son with Asperger's in the face with a remote yesterday. I'm never sure how to deal with that without a consequence, per se. That's not related to this blog post, though. On topic, I think if we go back to 2 hours of computer time during the week and he can earn more with chores and out of the home activities and exercise, that might work. Great idea. Thanks. I'm going to check out your blog. I have a blog, too. Thanks.

Kendra Martin said...

Glad to be of help. I think fighting between siblings is so hard on the always has been a hot button for me. Even though my brother and I fought verbally and sometimes physically when we were growing up, and are now very close - when I see my kids doing this it sets me off. Both of my kids are considered "special needs", one with the Asperger's and one with Tourette's & OCD, and I know this can sometimes add to the problems...but honestly, the longer I'm alive the more I believe that we are all "special needs" in one way or another...
I have a bad tendency to take one kids side over the other, different kids at different times, and I have found the PD tool "Putting kids in the same boat" to be very helpful with this. Positive Time outs have also been great, for me as well as them, and then after we cool down we can process what they were feeling before the fight, how to recognize when they are about to get physical, brainstorm alternatives, etc. There are just so many tools in Positive Discipline, and I have found that they are effective whether or not a child has special needs. If you don't already have the Positive Discipline A-Z book, it is great, and makes looking up ideas and solutions very easy. I love mine!
By the way, I read your blog, and I hope you'll keep up the writing : ) Very heartfelt...

Duncan Faber said...

We found a great way to ween our kids off tv. Children's audiobooks. It's not as good as reading, but it's a great half-step and it's way more engaging than staring at the idiot box. We download them for free at