By now you’ve probably heard that limiting the amount of time your child spends watching television is a good thing. But many parents don’t really know why this is important. Before I share some tips for keeping your kids away from the TV, let’s review why we even need to do so.
Remember that time spent watching television or playing video games is time NOT spent reading, interacting, building, counting…in effect, learning. Your child’s primary focus is to learn about their environment and prepare for their life as an adult. Studies have shown that children who spend more than two hours a day sitting in front of a television suffer from shorter attention spans, obesity, and even irregular sleep patterns. On top of it, the content of today’s programming is much less conservative than it was 20 years ago. Almost every station now features more adult content at any given time of the day. This includes sexual and violent subject matter, as well as inappropriate language.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children’s total media time be limited to no more than one to two hours of quality programming a day. But the reality is that as overworked moms, we sometimes need just a little extra time to cook dinner, load the laundry, pay bills, take a shower, clean house…or just have a little break. So what can we do?
First, establish the ground rules. You are the boss here, not your kids. Don’t be afraid to say “No” to watching TV. They’re not old enough to always make the best decisions, so that is your job. Make a plan about when your children can watch television, then stick to it.
Keep in mind that when used responsibly, certain programs can indeed be educational. I usually let my kids watch PBS in the afternoons, but limit the time to a couple of kids’ shows, like WordGirl and Wild Kratts. The key is to not only monitor the amount of time your child watches TV, but also to know what they are watching.
Next, keep televisions out of your child’s bedroom. Studies show that this can lead to irregular sleep patterns. You’re better off to try and limit the number of sets in your home to one or two placed in communal areas like living rooms or kitchens.
To keep your kids busy, stock up instead on educational toys that keep your kids entertained for long periods of time. Some good examples are LEGOs, craft kits, activity books, play-dough, and painting supplies. And don’t forget to keep age-appropriate books in easy-to-reach places! Reading is one of the best forms of educational entertainment available.
If you have more than one child, encourage them to play games together. Boardgames, card games, chess, and dominoes are all great at occupying children for 30 minutes to an hour. Keep in mind that sometimes you’ll have to take the time to teach your children how to play these games, but it is worth the investment because once they understand how it works, you’ll be able to use that time to get other things done.
Depending on your living situation, you can also send your kids outside on a nature hunt or bug bingo. If they prefer more physical activities, have them play some sports like bocce, soccer, or even catch. Placing a tub full of chalk, jump ropes, balls, and other supplies for outdoor fun helps to motivate young bodies to exercise.
Finally, designate one day a week as the official “Movie Day.” For us, that is Saturday. I let my kids pick out a (pre-approved) movie and we make it special by setting up blankets and pillows on the floor, and sometimes we make a bowl of popcorn for the ultimate movie experience.
Monica Olivera Hazelton is the founder and publisher of MommyMaestra.com, a site for Latino families that homeschool, as well as families with children in a traditional school setting who want to take a more active role in their children’s education. She is the 2011 winner of the “Best Latina Education Blogger” award by LATISM.