The evidence is clear -- too much TV is bad for your kids. Experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the Nemours Foundation to the Mayo Clinic have linked excessive TV to a host of problems, from obesity and insomnia to behavioral problems and poor test scores. Meanwhile, a survey by Eastern Washington University showed that kids who don't watch TV spend more quality time with their parents, read more and do better in school than their peers. But in today's world, how is it possible to raise kids without Spongebob and Dora?
1 Determine exactly what your rules are going to be. Is the entire family going to give up TV, or will the adults still sneak some TV time when the kids are asleep? Are you just going to stop watching shows, or are you also going to give up movies? If you're just giving up shows, is it okay to watch an episode or two on DVD, where you have control over the content? Establishing the ground rules right away will prevent power struggles and will help you decide whether you need to simply make the TV hard to access or throw it in the trash completely.
2 Put the TV in an inconvenient place if you're planning to keep it around. Hide it in a locked cabinet or behind a towel, or store it in a room your kids don't use often. Above all, don't put it in a place where your kids will be able to watch it when you're not around, like their playroom or bedrooms.
3 Avoid watching TV in front of your kids if you still want to watch it yourself. If you're allowed to watch TV and they aren't, expect them to constantly accuse you of being unfair -- and with good reason. If the TV is in an inconvenient place and is never on while the kids are awake, they're much less likely to think about it.
4 Figure out when your kids are used to watching TV, and prepare other family activities for that time -- otherwise, expect them to just sit and stare forlornly at the place where the TV used to be. Do they usually watch TV when they get home from preschool? Post-preschool is now family craft time. Does their favorite show air at 4 p.m.? That sounds like the perfect time to hit the playground or the library.
5 Stock the playroom with plenty of alternate activities so your kids won't be bored. Bring out the books, board games and art supplies. Fill a box with dress-up clothes or musical instruments. Find toys that encourage creativity and will keep your child busy for hours -- for instance, blocks, puzzles, dolls and role-playing toys like kitchen or tool sets.
6 Expect to spend more time with your children. While older kids can read to themselves, understand the rules to simple board games or make up games independently, a toddler or very young preschooler may have some trouble finding things to do without your help. You're going to lose some of the "mommy time" you used to get while your children were tuned out in front of the TV; instead, you'll spend that time reading to your kids, helping them build pillow forts, teaching them to make finger puppets or putting on music to have a dance party with them. But then, wasn't "more quality time with parents" one of the advantages of giving up TV?
- Although you're well within your rights to ask babysitters not to show TV to your kids, think very hard about how you want to handle it if your kids have a play date at another child's house. While some parents will be fine respecting your wishes, others will feel like you're judging their kids' TV habits if you ask them to keep the television off when your child is visiting. If you do want to stick to your "no TV ever" principles, be as diplomatic and non-confrontational as possible -- and be prepared to back down if it looks like your friendship with the other parent is going to suffer.
- MayoClinic.com: Children and TV -- Limiting Your Child's Screen Time
- KidsHealth.org: How TV Affects Your Child
- Caring for Your Baby and Young Child; The American Academy of Pediatrics
- Eastern Washington University: Summary -- TV Free Family Research
- Instead of TV: Television Viewing Habits
- Huffington Post: My Kids Don't Watch TV (But I'm Not Judging You!)
- Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images