The statistics are dismal:
• Kids ages six months to six years spend three times as many hours watching TV as they do reading or being read to
• One-third of kids aged six and younger have a TV set in their room
• The average American kid watches four hours of TV a day
The majority of parents admit their kids are in front of that TV more than they’d like, but with summer here that could pose a special problem: How to get the kiddos off the couch, so they experience something exciting and energetic the next few months.
Beware: it’s easy for kids (and us) to fall into the addictive habit of spending too much time in front of the boob tube. But there are dangers to our children’s emotional, physical, cognitive, and social development that we should consider.
The fact is the more kids watch TV, the more time is lost for nurturing creativity, learning sports or hobbies, reading and expanding their knowledge, playing in the great outdoors, practicing social skills, or just finding ways to entertain and enjoy themselves.
Those key “family connecting moments” are lost, as well as just experiencing those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.
Best Ways to Help Kids Make the Plugged-Out Change
Here are three steps and the solutions to curb your children’s viewing habits and help them find healthier and even educational entertainment options during the summer... and without having to break the bank. You can also adapt these rules for video or computer game overuse. And remember: these rules should apply to the whole family (aka that includes you!).
STEP 1: Breaking Kids’ of Unhealthy “Plugged-In” Habits
Take the Parenting Challenge!
Have you ever really stopped to track how much TV you and your kids do watch during the weekends (or weeknights)? If not, take the parent challenge: Keep a diary of your child’s TV habits starting this Saturday and Sunday. Anybody who turns that TV on must log in. Then add those minutes up (or have your kids do the adding – it’s a great math lesson). The number just may shock–or delight—you, and also fuel your commitment to help break your children’s TV addiction this summer. Just make sure you add up your own viewing habits as well.
Set clear viewing boundaries: Set a specific time to sit down and spell out your expectations for summer-time viewing.
Make bedroom TV-free: If you have a real addict, then don’t make the television so accessible. Pull it from his room.
Kids who have a TV in their bedroom watch 286 hours a year on the average.
It’s difficult to monitor what or how much time your kid is watching alone in their room. So take that TV out of there right away.
Set TV limits: Figure out the maximum viewing hours each day for your child and then stick to it.
Make kids accountable: You might begin the TV weaning process by making your kids track their actual viewing hours on a paper taped by the set.
Remember, the first step to change is awareness that there is a problem. It’s often a real eye opener for kids—or at least their parents–just how often they do watch TV.
Or make them use an inexpensive electronic kitchen timer to punch in their TV time, which must be running while watching TV.
You could also set the timer from your TV’s remote for the total minutes allowed each day.
Pre-select shows: Make a new house rule that TV shows must be selected in advance and have the kids submit a weekly schedule that must be approved (which cuts down viewing dramatically). Explain that from now on your children must make an appointment to watch TV, so that viewing becomes more of a privilege. And do not allow channel surfing. I know this sounds severe, but you really only have to do this for a week or so until kids get the hint that they can’t just “veg out” in front of the TV. You could also have them circle their show in the daily TV guide (which is a great reading lesson).
Turn off when not watching: Instill a new viewing habit: Turn TV off when the show is over. Make sure parents (you!) adhere to the rule as well.
Tips on breaking a habit: Breaking any habit takes time, consistency and commitment. You may feel like the Wicked Witch for a while, but if your child is a true couch potato you should expect resistance. Keep in mind that the average eight to 17-year-old is pulled to some kind of a digital device seven and a half hours a day, so the weaning process may be a bit challenging. It may help you to track your weaning efforts on a calendar. You should see a gradual (note the word “gradual”) diminishment of the plugged-in habit. Real change is possible only if substitute a healthier alternative. So move onto Step Two.
STEP 2: Offer Healthy Alternatives
The truth is many kids rely on the television because they don’t know how to entertain themselves – their lives have been so micromanaged or scheduled that it’s just easier to turn on the TV. So, substitute positive activities and find healthy alternatives
Schedule low-cost; no cost summer activities: Put up a summer calendar in which you actually mark in red ink scheduled activities.
~ Start with no-cost items: Check your community's parks and recreation program, the Boys and Girls Clubs, scouting, Day Camp, summer school.
~ Meet with parents and set up a “kid rotation” pool – for play dates or sleepovers – each parent can commit to one hour or one day a week.
~ Don’t go trying to fill in every hour of every day. Kids need to learn how to manage their own time and entertain themselves. Summer may be the perfect time to do it. Explain to your child that there will be holes in that calendar – unscheduled activities during the summer. Those are times when she is expected to entertain herself without the television.
Set up mini “unplugged and no cost entertainment centers”: Start by gathering what you already have around the house (and do get your kids involved). Then whenever your kids get that urge to go for the remote, you can suggest something else instead (and have it accessible!). In separate shoeboxes or plastic bins put unplugged “things” like art supplies.
When your child tires of the items, consider rotating the centers with another parents.
Dollar stores, thrift stores or garage sales are great places to pick up craft items. And don’t overlook recyclable items! Just categorize by topic and label boxes such as these:
~ Picasso box: Popsicle sticks, glue, toilet paper tubes (recyclables)
~ A little Darwin: Bug book, magnifying glass, notebook and pencil
~ Your Van Gogh: Paper, crayons, paint, etc.
Teach “do-alone” games!: Solitaire, Soduko, puzzles or crossword puzzles! Alleviate that parental guilt – you don’t have to plan your kid’s every waking hour... in fact you’re doing him a favor if you don’t play social director.
Learning to handle unscheduled “unplugged” time is the one lesson most of our kids are flunking.
Start by thinking about age-appropriate activities that your child can learn to “do alone.”
Teach them how to do that task using the “Baby Step Model.”
1. Show your child how to do a puzzle by doing one together.
2. Watch and guide – but wean him from your help.
3. Step back and let your child play alone.
Get a library card: The absolute greatest solo activity is reading (my bias anyway). Encourage it!
Enroll your kid in the summer library program.
Check out books on tape or download onto your tween’s iPod.
Start a hobby: Anything that supports your child’s interest or passion. Playing a guitar. Learning harmonica. Knitting. Drawing. Photography. Cooking. Gardening. Coin or Stamp collecting. Anything goes!
Hobbies not only nurture a child’s talent, but also become a wonderful relaxer, and can last a lifetime! You might try to find another parent who has the skill to “teach” the hobby to a group of kids!
Exercise: Get kids away from the television with exercise! Learn yoga, put up a basketball hoop, pick up bikes or weights at a garage sale and turn your garage into a gym, or enroll your kid in a swim program or sports club. Or just open up the door and expose them to the great outdoors: hula hoops, jump ropes, kick the can, kickball, skipping, hopping, playing, running. Our kids are play-deprived! Let’s get them moving!
Step 3: Know When to Worry
Here are a few indicators that something else may be amiss and you should get professional help for your child:
TV viewing monopolizes your child’s life; you notice withdrawals or behavior flare-ups if he can’t watch; TV becomes a substitute for friends, hobbies and all other aspects of his life, or your instinct says there is a deeper problem.
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