How to Limit Your Child's TV Time

Boy and girl watching TV up close
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If your child is anything like most kids, he spends more than three hours a day in front of the television. Given that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time—including computer and video games—to less than two hours for children over age 2, it might be time to cut back.

There are many reasons why it’s important to limit screen time. Screen time is linked to obesity, overeating (due to those tempting food commercials), sleep problems, behavioral issues and impaired performance at school.

However, the average kid is also likely to protest if you turn off the TV and ask him to head outside or crack open a book. There are less jarring ways to limit your child’s TV time—meaning you might not get quite a fuss from your little one.

Initial Steps to Take

First things first: If there’s a TV in your child’s bedroom, remove it. Research shows that children who have TVs in their rooms do worse on tests than those who don’t.

Then, enact a couple of easy ground rules for your family: No TV during meals or homework time. If necessary, incorporate a weekday TV ban, a simple way to limit viewing. Just remember, though, that you need to be a good role model and keep the TV off for you during this time, too.

Eliminate Background TV

It’s easy to flip the TV on just for a little background noise and not even realize it’s detrimental to your family. Your child, however, might be paying more attention than you think. Instead of using the TV for background noise, turn on some music or, if you prefer spoken word, a podcast or the public radio station.

Rather than just having the TV on for the sake of having the TV on, set a good example for your children and actively make the decision to watch TV. Choose the shows that are important to you and only flip it on for those time slots.

Create a TV Schedule

Don’t just create a schedule for your child; instead, create one for the whole family—and let your child offer input, so he feels like he had some say in his viewing habits. Stick to that schedule, allowing your child to follow it freely without being asked to stop for other reasons.

For example, if he wants to use his two hours of allowable TV on the weekends to watch a movie from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., don’t require him to accompany you to the grocery store or unload the dishwasher at this time.

Offer Fun Alternatives to TV

If your child’s activity choices are between cleaning their room, entertaining themselves alone, or watching TV, you can bet the child will chose the third option. If you offer fun alternatives, though, particularly ones that are family-oriented, the child just might change his tune. Options include going for a family bike ride, playing a board game or reading a book together.

If You Can’t Beat Them…

When you do allow your child to watch TV, do your best to make it into an active period of family time, rather than a lazy afternoon on the couch. By watching TV with your kid, you ensure that the show being watched is appropriate for their age range.

Watching together gives you a conversation topic to discuss once the TV is turned off. For example, if you see a TV show that features divorced parents, you can later discuss with your child about the different types of family structures.

It’s also a good idea to turn sloth-like TV time into a time to get moving by challenging your child to do yoga poses or stretch during the show.

During commercial breaks, hold a contest to see who can do the most jumping jacks, pushups or hold a plank pose the longest.

Although your child might be still watching TV, these tactics offer a few positive outcomes—and that’s a step in the right direction.

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