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:
- 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.
- 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.
- You don’t realize that screen-time is addictive.
- 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 many things for a week, including TV. It was interesting to watch how difficult it was for parents, as well as their children, to give up TV. 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.
If you are convinced that it would be a good idea to limit screen time, how do you start?
- Have a family meeting.
- Start with compliments—each member of the family sharing what they appreciate about every other member of the family.
- Using very few words, admit that you have made a mistake in allowing so much screen time.
- Allow all family members a chance to share their thoughts and feelings about this mistake.
- Remain kind and firm while insisting that screen time must be reduced.
- 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.
- 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.
- If your kids are old enough, ask them to do research on the internet on the effects of too much screen time.
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.