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April 2014 Newsletter: Limiting Screen Time

Limiting Screen Time
By Jess Albright, LCPC

It seems that every time we turn around there is a new electronic device out on the market.  TV, Kindle, iPad, iPod, Nintendo DS, and Samsung Galaxy Tab are just to name a few.  And those little buggers are addicting to play with, especially with all the games and apps that are now available.  So I’m sure that many of you have struggled to limit your child’s screen time.  Well, let me provide you with some tips that might help pave the way for you.  

First and foremost, you must act as an example for your children.  I, myself, have wasted plenty of time using my phone and tablet to follow my friends on Facebook and play Candy Crush Saga, so I understand the allure.  But “do as I say and not as I do” will not fly here.  Work together as a family to decide what the time limit will be.  When children actively participate in creating house rules, they gain a sense of ownership and pride, and then are more inclined to follow them.  And when the time limit is up, interact with your children.  Play a board game, read together, play catch with the football, or have a dance party in the living room.    

Now let’s revisit the time limit.  After your family has decided how much screen time will be allowed each day, use a timer to keep track.  There are a variety of timers, so you and your family can decide what will work best for you.  There are even some really fancy time control gadgets out these days, so take a peek at Amazon.  You, the parent, can plug devices into the control gadget and set the time limit.  When the time is up, the control device will automatically shut off the electronic device.  Something like this can be very helpful for working parents who get home late, as well as decrease the chances of a power struggle or argument.  

Next, do not allow screens at the table during meal time.   This means you too, Mom and Dad!  Being together during a meal is a great opportunity to talk with your child.  Here you can find out what goes on at her school, what she likes doing with friends, what music she likes, or how she feels about the most recent worldly news.  However, if screens are present, you miss out on this rich interaction with your child.  It may be difficult at first, so if you find yourselves staring blankly at each other, reach for a fun dinner table game, which you can also find on Amazon.     

I also recommend that you do not allow your child to have a TV or computer in her bedroom.  Talk about 24/7 distraction!  Having your child watch TV or use the computer in the living room or family room allows you to have closer supervision over the content, and prevents her from isolating herself from the rest of the family.  You can always let your child earn the special privilege of having a portable DVD player or laptop in her room on occasion.  

So what do you do if your child does not agree with the family time limit, or constantly bugs you to extend it?  Have your child “pay” for more time by first doing something more educational.  For example, if she wants to play a game on her iPod for 10 more minutes, then she needs to “pay” for that time first by reading for 10 minutes.  Other ways of “paying” can include doing chores around the house, working ahead on school work, or doing yard work (Spring is here and those flowers aren’t going to plant themselves!).

There is no right or wrong way to go about limiting the screen time.  You and your family have to determine what will work for all of you, and then follow through with it.  Just remember -- behavior cannot be modified and habits can’t be broken without consistency.  

Jess can be contacted at: