You don't have to be perfect to be the perfect parent!

Does your family need a media diet?

screen time for kids

For years parents have been encouraged to limit TV and screen time for children…especially preschoolers. We have seen many studies that show children who watch too much TV are more likely to be overweight, have an increased risk of attention problems, and their play is truly interrupted. Children who are exposed to sexual programs are more likely to have sex earlier and TV violence and violent video games increase aggressive behavior. All this research has not decreased the amount of screen time families have, children continue to have lives filled with smart phones, tablets, computers, gaming systems, and yes….TV.

I just returned from a wonderful vacation with my husband. I knew when I left that cell phone usage was going to be challenging, and I must admit there was a bit of anxiety about losing that connection. What would happen if I could not check emails, get phone calls, or heaven forbid see Facebook and Instagram? I realized that as much as I preach about unplugging and keeping screen time to a minimum for our preschoolers and controlling it for our schoolagers and teens that I too am very dependent on my phone and other “screens.

Families are so connected to their screens we have not been very effective limiting time on them for our children. The average child spends about 3 hours in front of a screen each day. Teens have much more! So, maybe we need to look at controlling the type of screen time our children have, not just the amount. A study published  by Dr. Christakis showed that if we can’t decrease the hours of screen time, but we use those hours for “pro social” programs or video games the result is positive.  Children’s behaviors improved when the programming was controlled.  Maybe it is time for every family to start a “media diet”. Great….another diet to look at, right? This one is different…so grab some of that Halloween candy and let’s chat.

  1. Don’t be controlled by your emails and social media. Pick certain times of the day that you will check these. Try catching up first thing in the morning, at nap time, and in the evening. Don’t be tethered to every email notification or push message from your social media! If we stop interacting to check out the latest post we send the message that our phone is more important than our child!
  2. Every home should have areas which are screen free. All meals should be eaten without phones or TV. This encourages family conversation. We know that children who have family meals complete with conversation have better grades, less drug use, and better life choices. So, turn off the TV and talk.
  3. Make a commitment to keeping your child’s bedroom screen free. TVs and computers in the bedroom increases screen time and can result in your child viewing inappropriate shows or information. Parent of teens, consider “checking in” the phone in the evening so your teen isn’t tempted to be texting and surfing all night.
  4. Be aware of how much your child is on a screen and what your child is viewing. Keep a log for a week and track the amount of time and the content of the shows, games, etc.
  5. Make sure you are watching what your child is watching. Sit down and watch the TV shows, play the video games, learn what it is that your child is seeing. Be sure you have rules in place for older children especially. What shows or games are acceptable? Be sure you are clear.
  6. Use your DVR. What a great tool to limit advertisements (this will cut out about 10 minutes of screen time per hour show!), fast forward through inappropriate scenes, and most importantly to stop a program and have a conversation about what was just seen. “How do you think that person felt when this happened? Was that a good choice?”
  7. Plan specific times of day that your child will be allowed screen time. Control the amount by limiting it to 30 minutes here and 30 minutes there. If it is a part of the daily routine and not just constantly on as “background” in your home, the amount of screen time will be decreased and your child will spend time playing in other creative ways. Don’t channel surf…when the show is over, turn it off!
  8. Be sure that you read about what your child wants to watch. A great guide to this is Common Sense Media. This will review shows, movies, and apps to see if they are appropriate. Remember, you are the parent and you have the ability to control what programs, games, and apps are brought into your home. Controlling what your child sees is more important than how much.
  9. Keep your computers and tablets in public areas of your home. It is too easy for kids to be exposed to inappropriate material if left unsupervised!
  10. Be aware of the social media sites kids are using (Facebook is no longer cool!) Don’t allow preteens to have social media accounts and monitor your teen’s site. Give continual reminders that what is put on social media is always permanent….even if it is “snap chat”. Go over “manners” and kindness for social media…it is so much easier to bully on line than it is face to face.

Taking control of the screen time in your home is essential. Technology is here to stay, and it has so much benefit if used correctly. So, unplug for periods of time during your week (it really is refreshing), keep conversations going using real words and eye contact, make TV time a family plan, control what your child sees and plays….and remember that your child can never “unsee” an image, so protect them from seeing something that could be damaging to their young minds. Let’s all commit to putting our families on a media diet!

Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.



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