The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children over two watch only an hour or two of educational, nonviolent TV a day, and that children under two avoid TV entirely. As most parents know, though, this is far easier said than done. When your preschooler is screaming at the top of his lungs for yet another episode of "Blue's Clues," or when you just want your toddler to leave you alone for twenty minutes while you make dinner, it can be unbelievably tempting to flick on the TV and let it run. Take heart, though -- it's possible to let your family enjoy TV in moderation.
1 Cut back gradually instead of trying to go cold turkey. If your kids watch six hours of TV a day, going down to one hour will lead to outright mutiny. Try cutting an hour of TV the first week, then another hour the second week, and so on until you're down to an appropriate amount.
2 Create a TV-watching schedule with your family. If you just say, "We're going to cut down on our TV time!" but don't make specific goals, it'll be hard to follow through. Help your children choose no more than two hours' worth of programming every day and create a schedule based on when the shows air. You can also base the schedule on when you most need them to watch a movie while you get something done. If a favorite show comes on at 4 on Mondays, then Monday at 4 p.m. is TV time; if you want to put in a movie while you make dinner, then TV time comes between afternoon nap and dinner time.
3 Limit your own TV viewing time when your kids are around. Toddlers and preschoolers tend toward "monkey see, monkey do" -- if you watch hours of television every day and have it on as background noise, even when you aren't watching, they'll learn that it's appropriate to watch a ton of TV. Pick one or two favorite family-friendly programs to watch when your kids are around. If you feel like you're falling behind on some beloved shows, especially the ones that aren't rated TV-PG, you can always binge after the children go to bed. And, of course, you can watch many shows on your computer, when the kids aren't around.
4 Keep the TV in a public area, like the living room or rec room. If your kids have televisions in their bedrooms or other adult-unfriendly areas, it's easy to lose track of how much they're watching -- and a preschooler who's figured out how to work the TV may even try to sneak extra programs when you aren't looking. Whatever room you choose, make sure it's stocked with toys and books so your kids have something to do in there other than zoning in front of the tube.
5 Cover the TV when no one is watching it and squirrel away DVDs in a cabinet with doors instead of an open shelf. If your kids don't see the TV or their favorite movie, they're less likely to think about watching television. If a beloved movie is sitting right at your toddler's eye level, on the other hand, expect him to come toddling toward you with the DVD clutched in his hands and a woebegone look on his face.
6 Prepare plenty of alternative activities for your kids. Have a stack of favorite board games, toys, books and craft activities ready to go when they start asking for TV during "unplugged" time. Schedule day trips or play dates for the first few days of the new TV schedule to keep your kids busy. If they feel like they don't have anything to do, they'll go bananas at the thought of not watching TV. If there are engaging activities for them, they won't feel so deprived.
- When you make the TV schedule, don't plan for any programs during meal time or right before bed. Watching TV before going to bed can wind up your children or make them more likely to have nightmares, and watching TV during meals can lead to your kids munching on on food even after they're full. If you've heard the advice to watch TV with your kids once, you've probably heard it a thousand times; make it a thousand and one. Not only will it help you keep track of what and how much your kids are watching, but it will also give you things to talk about with them during all that unplugged time. Of course, you're probably too busy to sit down and watch an entire 90-minute movie with them, but even checking in every few minutes is better than nothing.
- HealthyChildren.org: Where We Stand -- TV Viewing Time
- KidsHealth.org: How TV Affects Your Child
- WebMD: TV and Kids -- How to Cut Screen Time
- Caring For Your Baby and Young Child; The American Academy of Pediatrics
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