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Setting Limits on Screen Time

Travis Huggett

Every now and again, I’ll meet a parent who tells me that her kid never watches TV, and I’m always in disbelief whenever I hear that. Never? Really? Now, it’s not like I plop my kids down in front of the boob tube for hours on end, but I readily admit to using my friends Phineas and Ferb, Mickey, Dora and Diego as diversions to give my kids screen time and me some downtime on a regular basis.

In the past decade or so, the rise of gadgets, gizmos and “i” devices has totally changed what screen time entails. Raise your hands if you have one or more of the following in your household: smartphone, PC, tablet, gaming system, Blu-ray player, hi-def TV...Yep, there’s essentially a cornucopia of technology for our kids to choose from – a far cry from the single, huge wooden TV and VHS recorder I had in my basement as a kid. But if you have a child like mine who could literally sit and watch (or play Wii) for hours if he had his druthers, the question begs, how much is too much?  

The American Academy of Pediatrics has long advocated a guideline of no more than two hours of quality programming a day for kids aged two and up. I’m not quite sure if Kick Buttowski qualifies as quality TV, but that is generally what I follow in my household. We barely have time to come close to that number on school days, but it’s a good guideline to keep in mind. And to keep it simple for me and my kids, screen time is screen time. If my six-year-old son chooses to play Wii for an hour, that counts equally as watching TV for an hour. Same goes for iPhone usage, playing games on my computer, etc. Screen time is screen time.

If your child is tech-obsessed and needs support weaning off the gadgetry, you can use a simple chart like this one to show how much time is being spent in front of the screen. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also offers some simple tips and suggestions for limiting screen time for your kids, like:

  • Keep track of how much they’re watching
  • Provide fun alternatives – play with your kids
  • Don’t have TVs in kids’ bedrooms
  • Turn off TVs at mealtimes
  • Talk, talk, talk to your kids!

This, as with any many other aspects of parenting, is all about setting by example. If your kid sees you parked on the couch for hours, well, clearly the precedent has been set. I am definitely a believer that kids need downtime, just like we do, and TV can be a way for them to just sit and veg out. But when their eyes start glazing over and they are quoting lines from SpongeBob SquarePants, you know it’s time to start setting those screen time limits.

How do you set screen limits at your own home? Share your good ideas and thoughts below! 

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