How to Limit Your Child’s Screen Time

Television is the menace that everyone loves to hate but can’t seem to live without.” —Paddy Chayevsky

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation:

  • Kids under age 6 watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs.
  • Kids and teens 8 to 18 years spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen and almost 2 additional hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games.
  • Counting all media outlets, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day

And the effects of television on children are not good. Children who watch too much television:

  • Carry a much higher risk of childhood obesity.
  • Are more likely to display aggressive behavior. Children naturally copy what they see. (For a simple, chilling experiment, allow your son to watch professional wrestling and see how long it takes before he tackles his sister).
  • Are more likely to engage in “risky behaviors” when they get older.
  • Have less energy.
  • Have a harder time in school.
  • Are more-exposed to commercials, advertisements, and propaganda.

Most people would agree that our culture watches too much. Yet, few people are able to curb their habit and reclaim their life. And even fewer know how to help their children navigate the media-drenched world we live in.

To help inspire parents, here are 12 tips to help limit your child’s screen time.

Each of these are tried-and-true methods used in our home and others.

Set the Example. Sorry to start with the toughest one, but there is nowhere else to start. Children will always gravitate toward the modeled behaviors of their parents. If they see you reading a book, they are more likely to read. And if they see you watching television, so will they.

Be the Parent. It is your job to encourage healthy behaviors and limit unhealthy ones – sometimes this means making unpopular decisions. Make these tough decisions for your children. And always go the next step of explaining why you have made the decision – this will help them follow through and someday choose it for themselves.

Set Limited Viewing Times. If you are not going to turn off the television completely, choose the appropriate television viewing windows for your kids. It is much easier to limit their viewing habit if they understand that they can only watch one show in the morning and one show after school (as just an example).

Encourage Other Activities. And provide the necessary resources (books to read, board games, art supplies, and/or sporting equipment).

Play with Your Kids. Get down on the floor with your kids and pick up a doll, truck, or ball. It takes intentionality and selfless love when they are 6. But when they turn 13, you’ll be glad you did.

Be Involved in Their Lives. For many parents, it is just easier to turn on the television than to actually be involved in the lives of their children. But those intimate life details are required for successful parenting. So observe, listen, ask, and parent.

Cut your Cable / Remove Your Television Completely. If you want a sure-fire way to limit your child’s television viewing habits, cut your cable/satellite television feed (or remove your television completely). It will change your family’s life overnight (it changed ours). Oh, by the way, it will positively impact your checkbook too.

Observe Your Child’s Behavioral Changes. Television has an immediate impact on your child’s behavior. After too much television/video games, my children get irritable, aggressive, selfish, and impatient. I can tell almost the moment I walk in the door. Be on the look-out for these behavioral changes. When you start to notice them yourself, you’ll be less inclined to put your kids in front of the screen.

Don’t Worry if They Miss Out on Parts of the Conversation. Your child’s friend will talk about television. They will compare notes about cartoons, Nickelodeon, or prime-time programming. You will think that you are depriving your child of friendships because they can not join in on those parts of the conversation (I’m speaking from experience). But don’t worry. You will have successfully prepared to your child to enter into far deeper, richer conversations than the most recent Hannah Montana episode.

Value Family Meals and Car Rides. About two-thirds (64%) of young people say the TV is usually onduring meals. That’s too bad because your family’s richest conversations will always take place during meals and in the car. Value those times with you kids. Don’t let the TV steal them from you.

No TV’s in Bedrooms. Not your kids’ rooms. And not yours either.

Find your mantra. A mantra is a sound, word, or group of words that are considered capable of creating transformation. While the words may not be magic in themselves, the consistent use of them can be. Every parent should have them and use them effectively. My “too-much television” mantra goes like this, “There’s been too much screen time in this family.” And every time my kids hear me say it, they know what it means… they know we are about to spend some quality time together.

Limiting your child’s screen time may seem like an impossible chore or it may seem like a battle that is too difficult to fight. But it is worth fighting.

Implementing just a few steps right away will help you implement the others. Television viewing is a momentum-gathering behavior. The more you do it, the more compelled you are to continue (advertisements have that effect on viewers). But the opposite is also true. The more you turn it off, the easier it becomes to keep off. You’ve just got to start somewhere.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Generally speaking, they don’t care what the fan looks like as long as it
    does its job. It is essential that the fan will fit in your room.
    If you sell the $79 vacuums, you are in the same boat as the battery store.

  2. Katherine says

    You could also write another powerful observation: For many PEOPLE, it is just easier to turn on the television than to actually be involved in their own LIVES.

    The television “habit” is one developed from childhood on. The hours devoted to screen watching are simply something that *is*. Which is why so many people (parents and other) will read this article, recognize it’s truths, yet continue to click on the tube or whip out the pad or phone and tune out. Or tune their children out.

    Because we consider tv to be harmless, enjoyable, and even lovingly referred to as a “fix”. Gotta get my fix! I need some downtime every day. I deserve an hour (or three) each day.

    It’s a shame that this authentically needed Me time isn’t channeled into playing music or drawing or socializing in the neighborhood pub or gardening or talking on the phone with a best friend or family member or volunteering or planning a vacation or working a second job or puttering around with a broken toaster or walking the dog or playing frisbee with a kid or cooking something new and challenging or swinging at the park or taking a nap or building with legos or reading a book or writing a book or planning a party or studying for an exam or tidying a closet or going on a date or spending time in prayer or sitting on the front porch and visiting with neighbors… .

    It is nearly impossible for adults to recognize how Just One Show per week turns into hours and hours and hours missing. Let alone for children and teenagers.

    Who is willing to examine the effect of mindless sitting and viewing (whatever the subject) on anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation, obesity, lack of sleep, breakdown of marriages, family, and social fabric?

    An occasional game or movie or comedy or whatever IS a great treat. Television can be uplifting, informative, educational, and inspiring.

    Even the best of its offerings, however, can be deadening, numbing, addicting, and distorting.

    I celebrate articles like this one by Mr. Becker (am looking forward to reading more of his stuff), which is particularly well-written, to the point, and encouraging. We CHUCKED our tv years a few years ago and the impact has been amazing. Yep, the kids, husband, wife, all pretty screen free except for the occasional movie or family-fun watching sports game at a local restaurant.

    If I found a dusty golden lamp and rubbed it and the beloved Robin William’s cartoon rendering of the Big Blue Genie were to appear… my wish might be: Please cause all humans to self-limit their screen time to 2 hours per week. Period.

    Imagine what a healthier, more involved, interactive, and brilliant place this world might be. Instead of being passionate about watching fictional characters’ and other people’s lives… we could be passionate about our OWN and those of our friends and neighbors and real living folks around the globe!!!

    • Katherine says

      My goodness, I did climb up on a soapbox there. I do not submit comments often (that whole limiting screen time thing?!). This article got me going.

      Thought I’d share my second heartfelt wish for that Genie: that no person under the age of 18 could own a cell phone/device. Sad to see children and “tweens” and teens hunched with that particular familiar posture and thumbs crooked and flying over a text, video game or slack jawed stare at tiny movie screen — while at a sports game, in church, on the bus, at a family meal in a restaurant, at school, or any given supposedly SOCIAL situation where these some-day adults are completely unplugged from the context around them.

      Content of what they are watching, playing, or texting about might be a real debate, but as this essay points out… it is the TIME spent in these habits that is the problem!

      Now I am logging out and off to go DO something with the kids. Happy living life, everyone!

      • Hal says

        Katherine, I couldn’t agree with you more, because I have a 15 year old (bright) son who spends virtually all of his spare time playing video games, and most of his social time involves playing online games.

        He uses his decent grades as an excuse, adding that he is better off online than getting into trouble, (as if that was the only other option).

        He seems to be having laughs and lively conversation while online, but I know he’s missing the non-verbal social skills… both giving and receiving. I am struggling on how to respond.

        I’ve tried many physical activities, and he loses interest and prefers the video games to any and all activities.

        I may regret not acting, yet short of pulling the plug entirely, any attempt to moderate his use is not working, and I can’t monitor him enough as a single father.

        • addie says

          I stress this to parents, DO.NOT. just “unplug” a child’s video games, and do not just take anything away from them drastically, IT.WILL.WORSEN.IT, it helps their addiction, and could cause hording, not only that but I will *destroy* any trust you and your child have made through out life. the same goes for cutting, simply talk to you child about lessening your time, but do not force them, because then they will feel as if you are talking down to them, just talk to the as n equal

      • Wendy says

        I agree with you in theory regarding cell phones but the reality is that there aren’t pay/public (can’t even remember what they were called now) telephones anymore. They were everywhere. In schools, on the street, outside libraries, and on the highways even. I used to use the one outside the swimming pool in highschool after practice so my mom could come pick me up. There were two of them in that one location and near every exit around my high school including the phones inside near the office, and now there aren’t any. So arguably in this day and age it doesn’t make sense logistically.

        • Wendy says

          And there are cell phones that aren’t smart phones and while not cool amongst your friends, at least you can call your mom.

  3. says

    Immitation of what they usually see and with it how difficult it would be to manage our child; quite an annoying and unorganized often a time. Too much such media exposure not only matters for physical damage but it also sources drastic changes that a child will see in forms of restlessness, aggressive behavior; interfering many of important tasks. Well balancing their viewing time with something that is really beneficial to their study and real activities is great to follow & quality time spent with your child is a true cause helping them not to get much involved in it; tips provided herein are just great; appreciate!

  4. anargha says

    ok no brained person .Have you ever asked the kids which life they would prefer? I am 19 ok, so i have every right to speak up to you like this. oh, and the check book thing ,seriously?!?!?!?!and by the way you are probably thinking i ended up as a janitor but i go to Georgia tech and i have an amazing life! and amazing grades so seriously stop trying to ruined children’s lives i mean it’s like you are controlling those pour little things it’s their life and the first few years are the only years of life they can enjoy playing video games. so stop this nonsense

  5. Yousef says

    Idk (I don’t know) If your sure that their friends will talk about tv cartoons cause now some children’s will convenes their child to stop watching tv

  6. Joy says

    Just a thought about the “chilling” idea that a little boy will mimic a pro-wrestler he sees on t.v. A little boy will be a little boy, sticks and tumbling and roughhousing. The public school system keeps them in neat little rows with no down time. While I agree with the simplistic idea of no screen time which seems to have been your family’s choice, on screen now, reading and replying to you, as you were onscreen posting this article. And perhaps somewhere, a teacher is using screen time to share this article with her class. I’m not sure we will be able to escape it, but kudos for attempting to conquer your life back. Hope someone is able to lift their eyes from their cellys to nod at you as they walk past your front porch visiting your neighbors.

  7. Brooklyn Walker says

    eh… I think parents should limit time for TV and video games. because children should be able to have energy. Then if parents think ”no”, maybe they should think about” where will my child be when he or she will get older?”. if you say no, let your child not be active and healthy when they get older.

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