How to Decrease Your Kids Time with TV and Video Games

How to Decrease Your Kids Time with TV and Video Games

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  1. It’s no secret that television and video games are eroding the health and mental well-being of today’s children. Increased screen time has been directly linked by numerous studies to poor school performance and childhood obesity. The good news is that, as a parent, the power to shift your child’s habits is in your hands.

    Set Limits – And Make Them Consistent

    Setting limits is a good starting point. Set a specific number of minutes or hours each day for all screen time – television, video games (both consoles and handhelds), and Internet time not directly related to schoolwork.

    The key is to make this limit consistent. Don’t budge from one day to the next because you’re busy, or don’t feel like engaging in a pitched battle with your children. Epidemiologist Susan A. Carson from the Centers of Disease Control recently headed a study demonstrating that parents who consistently set a limit of two hours or less of screen time a day were most successful in changing their childrens’ habits.

    Get Them Reading

    Here’s a secret: prohibition, by itself, doesn’t work. You can set all the limits you care to set – no video games until after your homework’s done, no more than an hour of TV a day, etc. None of that helps if your kids are lounging on couches all afternoon grousing, "I’m bored." Unless you give them alternatives, they’ll return to what’s familiar.

    One of the best alternatives to passive screen time is to spark your kids’ interest in reading. Don’t impose reading lists on them; instead, find things that appeal to their interests. Ask the older kids in the family to take turns reading to the younger children. Schedule frequent, regular trips to the library, and let your kids find the titles that interest them. A family reading night – in which both children and adults gather in a room and spend an hour with a favorite book – is an ideal way to encourage this habit. If your kids see you reading (and enjoying it!), they’re likely to imitate.

    Buy Unique Games

    With the advent of video games, old-school board games began to go out of style. But traditional board and card games have made a comeback lately, with an influx of unique titles from both European and American game designers.

    Forget Target and Wal-Mart: find a local, independent gaming shop, and ask what they would recommend for families. Children of reading age will enjoy card games such as Fluxx, a fast-paced game where the rules change as you play. If the kids in your family are 8 or older, you can all enjoy interesting strategy games from Europe such as the popular Settlers of Catan, where up to six players can compete to monopolize land and resources in an uncharted territory. You can even tie together classic games and reading with such word-oriented games as Scrabble and Bananagrams.

    Get Them Outside

    The CDC study on kids’ screen time mentioned above also demonstrated that exercise was a vital part of getting kids away from the TV and shoot-’em-ups. Children who reported to researchers that they were involved in organized sports or spent a significant amount of time outside also reported consuming less digital media.

    If your kids aren’t enrolled in local sports, ask them what would interest them, and research the options in your area. The YMCA offers solid sports programs in most areas at affordable prices.

    While organized sports are great, don’t let it prevent you from throwing some balls and frisbees in the back of the car and getting out to the park or the beach as a family. Or plan a family bike ride, family hike, or even a game of two-hand touch football in the back yard. Being active doesn’t have to hollow out your wallet!

    If your kids have put on weight due to a sedentary diet of Spongebog Squarepants and Super Mario Galaxy, ask your doctor for advice on a nutrition and exercise program that will help them shed the pounds. If you’ve also put on weight, make sure you join them. For kids, seeing you walk the walk is more important than hearing you talk the talk.

    Eat As a Family

    An appalling number of families have gotten into the habit of eating mindlessly while focused on the TV screen. Not only does this encourage overeating, it also robs you and your kids of an opportunity to sit around a table and talk about your day. Turn off the TV, gather around the dining table, and talk about what everybody’s been doing and thinking. Coming to the table prepared to share information about current events may help spark your own childrens’ interest in keeping abreast of what’s happening in the world. You can even make a game out of it: challenge each child to talk about one interesting thing each night during dinner!

    It’s Up to You

    Just fretting that your kids watch too much TV won’t change their behavior. It’s up to you and your spouse to set the tone by creating firm limits, and by exposing your kids to the vast, wide world that exists beyond the confines of the flat panel.

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