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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Comments

  1. says

    Great post, Joshua. Our family (kids 7,5, and 15 months) has been without the Magic Box for the better part of three years. And you know what, we’re just fine. When you stop for a moment and think about it, there are so many things you could be doing instead of watching TV. I’ve written about it quite a bit and the reactions from folks all point to a growing trend of unplugging in favor of finding experiences that are deeper and more lasting.

    I think #1 and #2 are key. You have to walk the talk if you are going to make any ground here. Spot on advice all around. Thanks.

    • Noel J. Wallen says

      Yes it is ok, they don’t want you to fail a grade for failing to do your homework or by staying awake to long then falling asleep in class. Enjoy your TV for the alloted time if and when you get it back.
      ~Atty. Noel W., Miami car accident lawyer

    • says

      Living without a TV in this day and ages is not that difficult though. The Internet in the form of computers, smartphones and tablets (especially these latter two) have largely replaced the TV as the number one “time waster”. We do have a TV but other than for watching the odd film (often via my PC!) I hardly use it. My kids still watch it more than I would like, but perhaps that’s better than them hanging out on Facebook or whatever the kids equivalent is!

  2. an unschooling parent says

    Sorry, but I couldn’t disagree with you more. Making TV a “forbidden fruit” can often lead to children who want to do nothing but watch TV, simply because of its increased appeal by shutting it off. In allowing a child to learn how to self-regulate, they gain a skill most adults don’t have and for that reason alone, plenty of parents allow unfettered access to TV/video/video games. You can read more here: http://sandradodd.com/tv

    • Dana says

      That’s nice, when the kids actually learn to self-regulate. Mine hasn’t. If I don’t limit her time, she won’t do it herself and I *have* learned this from experience. If children were able to decide for themselves to only do things that were good for them, they wouldn’t need us to raise them.

      Don’t mistake me, I don’t believe in running an authoritarian household, and children do need space to figure things out for themselves, but I refuse to feel guilty that I don’t let my child run feral either.

  3. L says

    Re: #10- most families have tv in their vehicles also. I can’t tell you the number of times I see tv playing in the car pool line in school in the mornings. We use that time to pray and set goals for the day.

    I am just out of luck in getting rid of the box altogether, since hubby is an avid tv watcher, but I appreciate all the other suggestions. Sometimes you just need to be reminded of what you already know to get your fanny in gear.

  4. says

    My thoughts exactly! My son is only 2-1/2, but I can see how quickly tv can become a problem. I don’t think we’ll cut it out entirely, but I will limit it. I try to find activities to do based on what we’ve seen on television…for instance, we just made kites based on watching “Little Bear” episode (see my latest blog post). If he’s going to watch it, I at least want to turn passive watching into active/interactive activities.

  5. says

    Number 11 — Absolutely. I know people who allow their kids to have the TV on in their rooms all night long. A reward for behaving well and getting their lessons done. Kids can’t sleep without it!! They’ll do anything to keep the set on. They’re also taking medication for ADHD, etc. They can’t relax, look you in the eye, or hold a minute-long conversation with anyone.

    We cut out the cable several years ago. I didn’t even want my boys and my husband seeing the ads on the sports channels. When I suggested recently that I should perhaps relent so Hubs could relax and watch a game when he got home after a stressful day at work, it was my younger son who said, NO WAY!! We don’t need that noise in our house. It’s quiet and peaceful, and the guys want it that way. Me, too!

    • Jem says

      “They’re also taking medication for ADHD, etc. They can’t relax, look you in the eye, or hold a minute-long conversation with anyone.” Perhaps that’s because they have ADHD or similar issues? I have mild autism and can’t sleep without noise (it used to be my favourite Disney film for that month when I was a kid) and struggle to hold a conversation or eye contact.

      I’ve grown up with TV and internet, and don’t really understand why you would force your child to stop watching. Introduce and encourage them to do other cooler things and they will, forcing your will on them seems counterproductive and will lead to rebellion/resentment.

  6. Jenn says

    Reachel- # 7 alone won’t suffice! We haven’t had a TV or cable since my children were born, and we still have some issues with screen time. We’re not planning on getting rid of our computer, which has a DVD player and internet access, and that gives you more access to movies, television shows, and video games than most people with televisions had twenty years ago. Actual cable television is far from the only ‘screen’ that people sit down in front of these days.

  7. says

    Funny to read this post. I just finished a TV free week. Summary: Hard in the beginning, easier as time goes on. I don’t have any kids but I think these methods can be applied for mostly everyone.

  8. says

    Great post! My husband and I are TV free for over a year now and couldn’t be happier. Yes, we still catch our favorite shows on the internet or netflix but we are far more mindful about our consumption. We now see far fewer advertisements and have more (self)control over how much and when to sit in front of the screen. We think that bringing our future children into a tv free home will feel natural and normal to them.

    @ an unschooling parent – I didn’t read the post as saying tv was “forbidden fruit” (but then again I’m coming from a TV free home) rather, that we need to be more mindful of how we use TV in households, especially with regards to youngsters, that there should be limits, not a zero-tolerance policy. I think TV should be a treat like icecream or candy, not forbidden, just best in moderation and even better when you’ve earned it (whether you’re a child or a grown up).

    • says

      I think what the unschooling parent was trying to say (and I agree) is that once you remove CHOICE from the equation (ie. setting limits on anything that does not cause physical harm to them or others around them), they are learning that limits are set by outside forces (parents, schools, rules, etc.) rather than making the choices for themselves.

      I ended up on this blog post because I am looking for EVIDENCE that TV is bad for my child (mainly I was looking for anything that says it’s bad for her vision), since my wife and I have recently lifted all limits on screen time (we use computers–no commercial TV in our house). I have come across very weak proof–talking about obesity, language development, attention issues, etc. My daughter is ahead of the game linguistically (at age 2 and change), she does not exhibit wild or agressive behavior after watching and she engages in lots of physical and imaginative play for long periods of time.

      I think what a lot of these studies overlook is (1) how the TV is used (ie. parking your child in front of the TV so you can get things done, rather than the child’s choice),

      (2) how engaged the family is in the child’s daily activities (for example, we do not put her in day care–she is with one of use almost all of the time),

      (3) how engaged the parents are in the TV watching (example, we watch many shows with her and always observe things in daily life that relate to the program(s) she’s currently watching…and she points them out too!),

      (4) how long the child is breastfed,

      (5) co-sleeping/family bed,

      (6) what kinds of activities and toys parents have for their children (example, we don’t have a lot of electronic gadgets, but much more tactile and imaginative toys…and many things are not toys at all, but real things such as gardening tools, buttons, marbles, a broom and dustpan, etc.)

      (7) How much time you spend with your child in nature

      It may sound crazy, but we try our best (trust me, even we question the no-limits-on-tv thing) to treat our daughter like a person with choices, rather than a second class citizen that has to follow some family rules. For example, while mealtime is valued time, our daughter often likes to play and wander while she eats, and did so way before we gave her any screen time. We have amazing conversations with her throughout each day–we don’t need to force her to sit with us to have a conversation at some artificially designated time. Trust me, I value that time…But I trust that she will value it in her own time.

      We also don’t have TV in the background. She’s either watching or it’s off. We don’t watch TV…but she probably interprets our working on computers as “play.” And, btw, consider how much time you spend on a computer daily, especially if your work depends on it.

      Finally…I do think this is important and worth noting. We Did not give her ANY screen time before age 1. We made it a point to keep natural things in her life (cloth diapers, non-plastic toys, no processed foods or microwave or artificial colors, etc). Between age 1 and 2 she watched some short videos on You Tube (the Wiggles, Sesame st clips, and more “real life” music). I think it IS very important in that critical developmental stage (infancy esp) to limit screen exposure.

      • dani says

        hi,
        i actually did read something about screens being damaging for the child’s eyes, until they are fully developed at around age 8. it was on a waldorf site, you might come across it googling waldorf + tv or something like that.

      • Su says

        Dear Jeremy,

        I hope you really have better luck with your policy. Was your child 2 when you wrote this?

        Anyway .. we had a dream run with our child (boy now 6 1/2 y.o.) till about the age of 5 1/2 .. We thought we had done the impossible, raised a kid on ‘choices’ by gentle guidance about why those choices were correct .. as well as the very tough relearning we did for ourselves – modeling the behaviours and becoming those people we were talking about.
        We’ve always been careful about our food choices – not intolerant or spartan .. but sensible: healthy food at meals .. occasional ‘fun foods’ for parties / holidays / hang out times.
        Never watched TV / or any entertainment just like that. We let him watch his first TV-SCREEN withTeletubbies at 1 year plus, never more than 5 minutes a day, and only on some days. Graduating to curated shows throughout his life of ONLY age appropriate material that was PBS/BBC or SCHOLASTIC or highly rated by critics/child delvelopment experts. He had not had access to any Video Games till his first run with some simple falling blocks thingy at age 5 plus.
        EVEN NOW he does not REALLY watch more than 20 minutes of Youtube (Donald Duck / Octonauts / Mr Bean / Rocket launches / Submarine stuff / etc etc) daily and on weekend some TV. Once on a holiday he watched hours of CBEEBIES!! And absorbed tons of learning!

        He’s REALLY ahead of the curve in academics – has advanced placement for Math (moved to multiplication and division) and was Reading alone from a month before his 4th birthday. He’s just sharp .. NOT GIFTED.

        HOWEVER here’s what I noticed .. and the reason why I was on the Internet today and bumped into this website .. I am observing a gradual disintegration oh this order and gradual evolution, ever since we got a bit lax with the SCREEN TIME issues as he grew older .. thinking all was in order and he was going to be responsible about it.
        HE HAS NOT been.

        Things are coming to a head .. where I notice precisely those behaviors that Joshua points out. Irritability / aggression / loss of self direction. Everything that shows as symptoms of a gradual addiction to screen time – be it iPad / TV / YouTube. Yes peer group has a MASSIVE impact too. Suddenly he’s exposed to kids who have already watched STAR WARS. I would not imagine showing my kid that ‘violent’ film before he was 9 at LEAST. He’s been brought up on and LOVES shows like Beatrix Potter / Charlie Lola / even the Heroics of the OCTONAUTS and Rescue Heroes. Since when did these stop being the staple of 6 y.o.s?

        Anyway good luck with the Free Choice! We tried that .. it worked well but some amount of clamping down in terms of TV / Screen Time is essential because they comes laden with the danger of True Addiction. NOT every child is the same! Just as some adults can be at graver danger under certain circumstances of acquiring a dependence on ‘substances’ (be it alcohol-cigarettes-drugs) there are some children who are more responsive to the brain altering chemicals that are released while watching TV .. you just have to observe your child while she/he watches unblinking. Not EVERY CHILD tho. Some children. I prefer to err on the side of caution.

        Hope I was not too garbled!

  9. Catherine says

    We already limit TV and our kids are used to that, but as they’re getting older, we’re beginning to see an addiction to the computer arise. The point about setting the example hit home because the adults spend a lot of time at the computer as well. But, with the Internet being a source of information as well as communication, and the fact that my calendar and to-do lists are all online, I couldn’t cut it out entirely, and it’s so easy to get sucked in once you sit down to check your calendar, e-mail, blogs, etc. Any tips on how to limit computer time for adults and children?

  10. Reina says

    Ditto for what Catherine said. Our family has one television but no cable service (we use the DVD player), but it is our collective addiction to the computer that has me worried. My husband and I have our whole life online (budget, calendar, etc.), and it is so easy to get sucked in. For example, in one e-mail there might be three links that I check out, which often leads to more Internet surfing. I’ve used a timer to get all three of us on track. Joshua, do you have any more helpful hints regarding the computer? Thanks!

  11. Shannon says

    Great post! I finally convinced my husband a few months ago to get rid of our one television. We’ve never had cable, and it was rarely on, but I wanted it OUT. Out it went. You know what my dad said when he found out? “You are doing a HUGE disservice to your children.” (2 year-old and 2-month old). My mouth dropped open. My 2-year old watches carefully chosen DVDs on our computer screen on special occassions. That’s it. I think we are doing a great thing for her. I, too, noticed a behavioral change in her when she was watching too much screen time (particularly Max & Ruby). That’s what finally convinced hubby.

    I’d love to read a post like this but for cutting down computer time. I, too, find myself online a ridiculous amount. I pulled my Facebook account and that helped a lot, but I still feel like I’m addicted. Hmmm… like right now I should be playing Legos with Little Miss. Off I go!

    Thanks!!

  12. says

    @Shannon – I’m so glad to see someone mention Max and Ruby! We had to ban that show in our house because my speech delayed older child was regressing to copying Max’s one word sentences to communicate. He was perfectly capable of forming complete, grammatically correct sentences; it is amazing the influence one show had on him.

    I will admit that in this area my intentions are better than my outcome. I did great during the school year last year, and started out the summer with good intentions of strict limits. Then chaos collided with my WAH job and I found myself slipping into allowing more and more screen time just so I could get things done. I’d love a post on managing my OWN computer time because that is half the battle, if I can get that under control I’ll get my work time under control and have more freedom to do things with the boys.

  13. camille says

    I grew up without a television — my parents’ choice — in the eighties, and there were indeed conversations I couldn’t take part in at school. My sister and I complained about it from time to time, but I think not having a tv was one of the most defining factors that made me who I am, in a good way. I was thankful for it when I got old enough to understand that being different is actually a good thing.

    I read a lot (books, comic books and graphic novels) growing up, I improvised a lot of crafty activities with whatever I could find, role-played with my sister all the time, and I don’t remember ever being bored for very long. I never missed having a television at home.

    I did watch as much television as I could whenever I had a chance (visiting a friend’s house, staying at my grandmother’s, and later moving into my first apartment) but it was just the forbidden fruit thing, and I quickly tired of it.

    • Joy says

      Me too. I grew up in the 80′s with no TV, and although my parents had plenty of clutter, it was a simple life really lived. We read, caught frogs at the ditch, climbed trees, and then the neighborhood kids came home with us to eat home made bread and cookies. We had very little money, but we camped probably one weekend per month.

      I think I need to figure out how to add some of that to my own kid’s lives. But it is not easy. I still live in the same town, but it isn’t rural any more, and life is so busy. But, turning off the TV may be a good place to start.

  14. says

    Thank you for these great tips! I am constantly battling with this issues, partially bec. of getting hubby on the same page. However, I can control the hours during the day. We will get there! I definitely can see the difference in the children who live in front of the TV, video games,etc. vs. our daughter, who is somewhat limited. The funny things is, I think she still watches too much! ;-)

  15. Pamela says

    My kids are 7 and 4. TV isn’t the forbidden fruit at our house, but they rarely ask for it to be turned on. (Oh yes, another good tip – our remote is off-limits to the kids. We control what and when it is watched.) They don’t think of it as an option during playtime. They look forward to a one cartoon every Saturday morning, plus family movie night every other Saturday. Sometimes when they are totally worn out from real play, I let them watch a show and chill out for a while.

    Recently I got into a bad habit of flipping it on after the kids were in bed. My husband unplugged it to remind me that I had better options. I could still plug it in and watch it, but it made me stop and think if that was what I really wanted to do.

  16. says

    I would add

    #11 Have music playing already – we have a multimedia system, and if I have music playing when the kids arrive, they’re very unlikely to demand the TV instead. They will ask about the music, or dance, or find something to play with while they listen.

    I think like any habit, the parents who have it are likely to defend its acceptability for their children. And parents who have chosen to educate their own children at home (a choice I admire greatly) are more likely to need TV as a timeout for themselves.

    You can play devil’s advocate for practically anything. But if you find a study that contradicts decades of previous research, which result is more likely be more accurate?

    My kids only watch commercial free nice kids’ shows (really) on a special channel here in NZ. But when they “chain watch”, they end up grumpy and restless, rude and distressed. Their bodies don’t move enough. They don’t pay attention to their needs for water and food.

    I’ve also never bought the “forbidden fruit” argument, for TV, junk foods, etc. We use moderation for both of those, and I practice what I preach, but the kids still freak out when the sugar is offered. Both sugar and TV are addictive, and why expect small children to self-regulate addictive substances? Adults sure don’t.

    • says

      It’s not about self-regulation. It’s about CHOICE.

      You said it yourself…”Adults sure don’t [self-regulate].” We make choices. That is what we are trying to empower our child with…The ability to make her own choices. Surround her with love, keep her from physical harm and do everything in our power to facilitate the growth of her self esteem.

      I agree with what someone said about children mirroring parental activity. That’s spot on. My wife and I don’t watch TV. Who has time???!!!

      We do work on our computers…Our daughter models that…Can I blame her? Are we supposed to not do our work?

      • suze says

        be careful thinking your child can self-regulate. can’t write in depth as I’m caring for an infant right now but my 8 year old son would watch tv 24/7 if it were up to him. he would eat only snack foods as well. keep the limits and rules enforced. it can cause kids anxiety if rules, limits and expectations are not clear. I’m speaking from experience.

  17. Jackie G. says

    I don’t have any kids yet, but I remember the tv was usually always on when I was growing up. When I visit my parents, they still usually have the tv on when they are home. However, when we were growing up we had a really old tv, that eventually started to wear out. It would take 5-10 minutes for the screen to turn on, and then if it was on for more than an hour or so, the screen would go dark again. During this time, my two sisters and I stopped watching tv. When we got home from school we would play outside, get out a board game, or play with something else instead. And the best part is we stopped fighting. Eventually my parents got the tv fixed, but they didn’t tell us. We kept along quite happily for a while before we found out the tv was working again. Unfortunately we started up watching tv again after school, and got back into our bad habits.

    Now I live with my boyfriend. We have a tv, but we don’t have cable or an antenna, so we only watch an occasional movie, and we don’t miss it. We’re too busy going out and having fun to worry about what we’re missing on tv. My older sister is going to adopt this lifestyle now as well. She’s canceling her cable at the end of the month. We are trying to talk our parents into it now. It’s a waste of time and money, and nothing good comes out of it.

    Thank you for writing this article!

  18. says

    We canceled our cable just over a month ago and spend so much more time together as a family. I will never go back to TV land knowing how enjoyable living full time in the real world is!

  19. says

    We have never had much TV in our home. Way back, we had Dish for a while, but tended to watch too much. Turned it off and haven’t access for years. Never had TVs in bedrooms. We did have a van with a TV for a time, but did not put in a movie for just running around town, only for long trips.
    We usually watch what we want online. We pick a series and watch on our own time frame. Our kids are currently 17 and 19 (those at home). They now have laptops and watch their own things. I don’t love the way that’s working out, but we all like different stuff and they are learning to live their own lives. Our 2 older that are moved out do not watch much TV at all.
    After watching the movie Surrogates, I really felt even stronger about people sitting around looking at people living fake lives and not really living. Having said that, I am going to take my dog for a long walk outdoors in the sunshine!
    http://bernicewood.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/is-your-cup-empty-or-full/

  20. Not out of the woods yet says

    What a wonderful range of solutions! I’d like to emphasize how valuable it is to model an active, rather than passive, existence. When I am busy with a project – cutting up wood in the garden, baking, building something – the children were likely to join in when they were smaller, which was wonderful. Now that they are 10 and 13 I may have to direct them to get them to help in some way, and I do sometimes meet with some resistance here. (I inform them we all have to overcome some resistance to get to work – it’s part of life!) The great thing is that after helping me, they invariably head off and start their own projects and work for a few hours on their own.

    Experiencing creative work is so important for all of us.

  21. says

    I just wanted to thank you for this great post, and assure anyone who’s really worried about point number 9 (don’t be worried if they miss out on part of the conversation) that it really will be okay :)

    I grew up in a very ‘tv-light’ house — we were allowed extremely restricted viewing hours, had only one TV in the house, and eventually got basic cable only because we wanted to check out the ‘educational’ channels (History and Discovery, basically).

    While my peers were watching TV in middle school, I was riding horses and bikes, skiing, quietly writing piano and choral music, winning composition contests, and singing in an exceptionally good children’s choir. My sister, two years older, was writing plays and helping to build a fledgling teen theater program (which is still going strong now!); writing, directing, and filming sci-fi adventures with her friends; traveling to New York to visit museums and see shows… As a family, we explored the area where we lived, took long walks or drives to watch the seasons changing or look at our region’s beautiful colonial architecture, cooked great meals…

    We might not have been able to discuss the latest developments on Everyone’s TV Drama of Choice (I don’t actually even know what was popular in my school), but we didn’t care. We were busy living in a world full of discovery. We were able to continue feeling that way because our parents were both passionate, creative people who cared more about getting out and living than about sitting in front of the ‘idiot box’ and led by example.

    When I have kids, I hope to follow in my parents’ footsteps.

    Thanks for your wise and intelligent words. Keep up the great work!

    • Brent says

      Thank you for the words of inspiration. You made it clear the influence parents have and the role they play.

      Cheers

  22. says

    My husband, who is from England, often remarks on the extent and content of the advertising on American t.v. Commercials for medications, for example, are unheard of back home and wouldn’t be tolerated. Advertisers are not allowed to target children. Early evening programming doesn’t consist of “dead body shows” (CSI, Bones, etc.) with graphic autopsies. His impressions from watching American programing for the past eight years is that Americans are obsessed with death and illness.

    The physiology of sitting in front of the t.v. for more than an hour can be hypnotic for children, leaving them vulnerable to auto-suggestion. As you say, you can tell as soon as you walk in the door if they’ve been watching too much!

  23. says

    Great post and I agree! We got rid of cable about 8 months ago and have not missed it. There are less cartoons to watch now anyway, so my daughter doesn’t really ask to watch them as much. It’s a treat sometimes to watch it on Saturday mornings, or she watches what is on PBS, which is educational. I would be okay with getting rid of TV all together, but I do not think the rest of my family is ready for that yet.

  24. says

    About #9 – celebrate it if they can’t join in conversations about fictional dramas!

    I just had an adult version of this, where in a gathering of 6 women, three of them talked excitedly for several minutes about a popular evening soap opera, discussing characters and their intentions etc as if they were real and important.

    Meanwhile the other three of us looked at each other in wonder. I started up a different conversation with my seatmate.

    Later, I unintentionally started a real scrap by discussing politics. In the midst of heated disagreement (about trusting the government), when I asked for clarification of my opponent’s knowledge level (so I knew how to frame explanations of my position), I was accused of being “b#tchy”.

    Teach your children that real life is worth getting excited about and that TV isn’t.

  25. says

    Thanks for this post!
    I have a 2.5 yr old daughter and we have never owned a TV. However, her dad is a iPhone programmer and she spends much too much time on the iPhone. This is such a challenge because it can’t be removed from her life.
    I notice the difference in her mood when she spends less time in front of a screen. It is so important.

  26. says

    We have found taking walks at night as a family after dinner is a great way to connect with one another and build into our kids’ lives. Walk for 2-3 miles and the conversation becomes free-flowing. What’s more, it just sort of naturally reduces TV time without having to fight about it.

    We’ve been doing this for years and our kids love it…even now as high school and middle school age kids.

  27. says

    Game Time Limit for Parent: essential parenting app for iPhone/iPod

    There’s a useful parenting app to control the usage of iPhone/iPod Touch by your kids. The app is Game Time Limit for Parents:
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/game-time-limit-for-parents/id387692114?mt=8

    The app enables a parent to set a timer that limits the amount of game playing (or screen) time the child gets. When the timer ends, an alarm appears on the screen, stopping your child from playing anymore. The only way to stop the alarm is for him to handover the iDevice to the parent. Otherwise, the alarm keeps appearing.

    I tested it successfully on my daughter :) Check it out. I hope it helps you too.

  28. says

    I just wrote an article about this “babysitter from hell”, and then discovered Joshua’s post, which basically covers the same bases, only much more elegantly and with less than a quarter of the words I needed, LOL.
    I guess I’m not a minimallist yet, certainly not a word minimalist…
    Joshua, I really admire your concise writing, also in the 10 reasons to watch less television post, which rings very true with me.

  29. Monica Richter says

    I just downloaded an iPhone app that does a good job in helping me control my kids’ screen time. I have 2 kids and I can give them an allowance of minutes. they also need to earn minutes and can trade their minutes in for stuff they like. It’s called Screen Time. They have a light version for free if you want to try it out first. the paid version is $1.99.

  30. Brent says

    I was interested to read about the TV restriction and illimination at home. My wife and I have been with out a TV in the house (except for the one in the storage room that was brought out once last year to see a home video).

    Our kids 7 and almost 4, hound us to read books nightly and at times through the day. We also play and battle constantly with them and also exchange hugs and kisses before I leave for work.

    He is where it falls down for me. Even though one is enrolled at a WAldorf school. our son shares stories of the technoloy found and that is used by the other kids in the school and several in his class. X-box, tvs int he bedrooms, videos in the car, video game use on sick days. I am wondering what the value base is for a standard in the school and in the families participating in the school. I agree tht more mainstream families are joining the Waldorf system and it helps the cashflow to run the school, but, what about the peer group togetherness? As we are choosing to exclude (I know not possible completely) technology from our circle of influence, it seems contradictory that the group we are to join with are promoting a contradictory envirinment.

    We left the public system because the exposure to pop culture, now we find we can`t be so certain that the Waldorf community can provide a peer environment either.

    Are we in a state of idealism to expect to find others like us, are we to far off, where do we find the limits so we can accept and be accepted?

    Another question, I too have been reading some of the research onlne that suggests internationally the education systems are adopting media use as it is the mainstream for of communication which supports all economies. Are there career paths that flurish in a non tech environment, that can be stable and sustaining as the tech world continues to ramp up the speed of transactions?

    I would prefer to enter into a social group where ther is a vision that will allow a stable level of income and promote values shared by a Waldorf education.

    Any comments?

    ?

  31. Lea Dickman says

    I think that a good way to get your kids away from the tube is to get involved. Make up a game! Hide something special and make them go on a scavenger hunt for the special Item. Make them search high and low and give them clues as to where it could be. try to get their imaginations going. I think that parents really have to take the initiative and get their kids and themselves motivated to be active. Having something else to occupy their minds is great and when the parent (role model) is involved it makes it even easier for the child to participate.

  32. Henny says

    I am in total agreement.

    We don’t have a TV.

    We do have a tiny portable DVD player (with a screen) which I bring out for a treat occasionally (I would like to decrease this further), since it can be commercial free and we can have total control over what is viewed and for how long. We have DVDs from Australia and USA so it handles both. One thing I have noticed is that many USA DVDs include:
    - commercials and self-promos – UGH!
    - loooooong programs, rather than nice short time slots that work well for limited kid TV time
    - continuous play features where if you leave it, it will just play the entire DVD ad nauseum – awful! Our Australian ones mostly go back to the menu when the selected episode has played.

    One problem with our home is that my husband and I both use our computers a lot, and we don’t have a separate place for them other than the living area, so the kids see us working on those, not a great influence. I do make the effort to get off and play with the kids, but I’d like to have far more computer-free time. Must prod my other half on this too! We also have issues when we visit grandparents (which is most weekends) as they are total TV ADDICTS. They live alone, and have no less than 4 televisions and 2 computers, and sometimes most of them are on simultaneously. I drag the kids outside as much as I can, but it can be a real battle as my 3 year old is totally fascinated by TV.

    Thanks for the tips! I will make more of an effort to get back on track with this.

  33. cherie restler says

    As the parent of a small child aged six we have never had tv but have allowed occasional dvd during the week. I couldn’t disagree more with the first post sandra dodd. Children under the age of six do not know how to self regulate. you have to be the parent and shape the experience not the other way around.

    • says

      Yes, as a parent you DO shape the experience of your children!

      But, TV is just one KIND of experience. Books are just one kind of experience. Computers are another kind of experience. Nature is another kind of experience.

      It’s not about getting your kids to self-regulate. It’s about CHOICE.

      I agree that it is a gray area in regards to what age they can make the “right” choice. But isn’t the “right” choice just based on what YOU (WE) want?

      Yep, there are days when my daughter wants to watch shows on netflix for several hours. I don’t like it…But then I notice that she is LEARNING!!! She’s learning about language, plays on words, different kinds of animals and their habitats, about space, skateboarding, different kinds of music from around the world (and SEEING the instruments played).

      Other days we’re out and about, exploring parks, nature and the world around us…Or we’ll spend hours dressing up, imagining things, building with blocks, making things with play doh, etc.

      You have to look at the big picture. You have to realize that learning happens ALL the time (not just from books and definitely not just from school!)…yes, EVEN from screen time.

      Finally, you can engage with your kids even during screen time. We do it often…rather than just park her in front of it and treat is as a babysitter.

      • Dana says

        TV is not an experience. You sit in front of a screen and have images beamed into your brain. You’re not actually DOING anything.

        People are choosing to put GMOs into the environment and have chosen to slaughter millions of people and nuke entire cities. Just because someone can choose to do something doesn’t mean they should.

        No, it’s NOT all the same, it’s NOT all equally valuable. And part of making choices is knowing when you should choose to say NO.

      • mreeanne says

        Are you saying that your two year old has better decision making skills than you do? Wow, that’s sad.

  34. Laura says

    I have definitely witnessed both positive and negative influences from TV on my 3 year old daughter. She has learned many constructive things from television shows, but when her TV time increases the effect on her behaviour is dramatic.

    During the winter I tried a period of no-limits-TV for about 3 weeks in the hope that she would get sick of it and choose to do other things on her own. That’s not what happened. She watched more and more and more to the point that she didn’t want to do anything else. Literally. She could not be convinced to do things she used to love to do: being outside, going to parks, playing with friends, dressing up, riding a bike, reading with me etc. She became increasingly moody, whiney and tearful. She didn’t get tired of watching shows, but would become bored of individual episodes after a shorter and short time, asking to switch to a different show after 2-10 minutes (over and over again).

    I’m not saying this would be the case for every child, but it’s what happened with mine. Maybe it would have taken her a few months and then she would have gotten excessive TV watching out of her system? Who know, but I wasn’t willing to run with it that long. In any case I limited TV to a (still fairly generous) daily max after that, and she got back to herself. Whenever I start to let things slide though, the her behaviour and level of contentment take a dive.

    • Deniz says

      Laura, i understand completely because my 4 year old daughter reacts the same way after wtching excessive tv. Whats worse is that if she watches a dvd or two (like toy story or something) and i switch it back to regular childrens tv, she finds it too boring (and maybe even too immature compared to dvds!).

      It is tough though, because tv has its benefits, too. For instance, my kids’ mother tongue is Turkish, and so they (age 4 and 3) are learning English as a second language. Of course, in a country like Australia they are going to learn English anyway, but some childrens tv viewing has actually taught my daughter a fair bit of English. I do think they key is to limit the amount of time, and when they do watch make sure it is quality viewing. One good thing with kids tv here in Australia is that there is one channel (ABC Kids) that has only preschool kids tv shows with ZERO advertisements.

      As a young child myself, i used to like watching tv, but i also liked playing outside on the street with friends until the street lights came on. I used to even write up my own tv time guide with the shows i wanted to watch. But then as a teen i began to really dislike tv and by the time i was about 16 i realised how much of a waste of time it was and thought to myself ‘im never going to buy a tv’ (funny how things turn out). Interestingly, my high school art teacher didnt have a tv and everyone thought she was weird. But i thought ‘wow how freeing not to have a tv!’ and so i guess i was inspired.

      Sorry about my tv rant, i always have much to debate about (debating with myself it seems) on the topic!

  35. Lisa says

    Cutting off the cable or getting rid of the TV is a choice, it could be a family choice based on your family values, not just what Mom and Dad decide. Include everyone in the process!

  36. Erica Smith says

    I think limiting a child screen time by just doing the above set of procedures and instructions may put an argument between you and your child. I think the best way is to have a timer that automatically shut your tv or video game console when the agreed time set is over. We have a better relationship now with my child when I used the Video Game Limiter because he thinks that it is fair because our agreed time limit is always fairly met. He has no questions on the time he spent on the video game now unlike before when I monitor the time myself.

    • Tracy S. says

      This Video Game Limiter looks very interesting. Do you still like it 6 months down the road (if you see this comment!)?

  37. Christine says

    This is very helpful. We don’t have a TV. BUT the problem these days is the computer, on which you can watch (netflix etc) whatever you want, anytime you want. And a computer is impossible to get rid of, we need it for work etc
    My daughter has limited screen time, but I still feel it’s too much and that it’s hard to control it.

  38. Tami says

    For us the TV is a non issue…yes, we have it but we just don’t watch it that much…usually for family movies or my husbands sports. We only have one, which probably helps (cable guy couldn’t believe we were only installing one box lol what does that say about the norm?) BUT our issue is the OTHER screens…the laptops, the kindles, the phones, the daughter’s itouch… TV just seems outdated to me and far less invasive…it’s the other devices that hold our attention away from everyone else in the room and shut everything out. There are days I want to turn it all off but the hubs is not in agreement there… When we go camping or away for 3-4 days without these things I come back with a much *quieter* mind…however the rest of the family doesn’t get the same reaction (so they say lol)

  39. Fifi Bee says

    TWELVE tips to limit a child’s TV watching??? I am baffled by parents sense of powerlessness over media machinery (Tvs games consoles computers, phones etc) and their children. I am a single parent and used just TWO tips – plug it out Mon to Fridays (I removed the fuse from the plug so kids couldn’t plug it back in), then fill the child’s weekends with loads of activities so they are hardly in the house to watch it. For a few years we didn’t own one at all. When we got a computer and games consoles, depending on ages, my children had a time chart which we all monitored and ‘policed’. I only ever had 1 TV and 1 computer, in the living room. Then at 16 I allowed them to have facebook accounts (only one child started one before then but I found out!), manage their time with TV and computer, have their own DVD player (which they bought themselves), but because they were so active and out with friends, it was never an issue. From 18 they had their own laptops and their freedom on the web. My kids are now 18 to 24 and show no scars from a deprivation of TV/facebook/games etc. in their earlier years. They all still kept up with conversations at school and have a great group of real-life friends, have travelled lots and done lots of different things from rock-climbing, acting in plays to boat repairs! TWO tips (above) and TWO words parents: TAKE CONTROL :)

  40. Fifi Bee says

    How to get through evenings without TV? Boardgames, music and dialogue :) Also doing stuff together, cooking, chores, activity clubs, visiting the local library. Immersing yourself and your children in daily life and local life. If your job prevents you form doing these things as a parent, then I say you are in the wrong job! I changed jobs 3 times whilst raising my children alone in order to find the right balance. It mean’t that we did without certain things and I struggled with paying off debt sometimes, but my priority was always their well-being. Its a shame so many parents nowadays feel powerless and overwhelmed with ‘media-pressure and peer-pressure’ they seem to lose sight of what is really important to a child.

  41. says

    I personally experience, trigger I discovered exactly what I was seeking. You have finished our a number of evening extensive search for! Goodness Appreciate it man. Possess a wonderful evening. Ok bye

  42. maria says

    Well this is my story, my boy who is now 4, would not watch t.v. He would rather be outside playing in the yard (I coouldn’t get him to come in). At about 2 1/2 i decided that some tv time would give me some time to do some house work. Big mistake that was. Now I realize how my pre-schooler has changed. He is more tired and doesn’t want to do outdoor things that he once loved to do.He does go to pre-school but when he is home all he wants is to watch cartoons.. So I decided that t.v is only allowed on the weekends from now on and only for a little while. Told him that the cable company is shutting down the cartoons during the week.. Today was the first day it it went pretty well. At some point he asked for it but we read a book instead.

  43. Jill says

    We found a nice balance with disconnecting cable and local stations… for the past 10 years we watch movies on Netflix or our 13 year old son can watch a series/etc without all the commercials and news stations… he hasn’t ever complained!

  44. Sarah Kelly says

    My kids are 9, 11 and 14. It is not just TV screen time we struggle with, but computers and games consoles too. For my younger kids, I have always had a rule of ‘no more than 1/2 an hour on a computer (consoles included) and an hour on the TV. We only have one TV in the house, and they are not allowed a computer / games consoles in there bedrooms until the start secondary / high school, when they need a PC for homework.

    I use ‘Timesupkidz’ on my PC, but games consoles are much harder to control, so the rules get bent when my attention is away in the kitchen!

    My teenager uses the PC for school work, and she currently has 2 hours allowed on her PC, but I am trying to encourage her to take responsibility for screen time herself. However, it’s not been easy!

    I have decided to write down some good screen habits to encourage the kids to take more responsibility themselves. I have put it on an A4 sheet that I can pin up in their bedrooms.

    This is it:
    ————————————————————————
    Good Computer and TV Screen Habits

    - Do not spend more than 2 hours in front of Screens (TV and computers)

    - Before you go on the TV or a computer make sure your:

    > Room is tidy
    > Homework is done
    > You have practiced you musical instrument

    - Only play a computer game for ½ hour.

    - If you want to play it more than ½ hour, it’s probably an addictive game, so delete it and do not play it at all

    - Shut down game tabs when you are working on something else.

    - Switch off (or sleep mode) the TV or computer when you are not using it (Do not keep it on in the background)

    - Do not use any electronics in bed (including ipods!)

    REMEMBER WHY GOOD COMPUTER HABITS ARE IMPORTANT

    :-) Happier – less depression and anxiety
    :-) Healthier – more energy and feeling well
    :-) Better concentration – for things that are important to you, like reading, music and studying

    *** British teenagers are clocking up six hours of screen time a day, but research suggests the negative impacts start after two hours’ viewing time.

    Dr Sigman cites from a string of published studies suggesting links between prolonged screen time and conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

    Prolonged screen time also has effects on the brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine is produced in response to “screen novelty”, says Dr Sigman. It is a key component of the brain’s reward system and implicated in addictive behaviour and the inability to pay attention.

    For every hour on the screen, the risk of developing attention-related problems increases by ten percent. (2hrs = 20% more likely)

    More than four hours a day is linked to anxiety and depression.

    It is recommend that 5-18 y.o have no more than 2 hours of screen time a day for entertainment (excluding educational purposes). ***
    ——————————————————————————–

    The last bit I have put in a separate box. It will be more meaningful to my older two than my youngest, but I want them to see this isn’t just mum saying this, there are real risks!

    My biggest challenge is my daughter’s ipod. She uses it to ‘snap chat’ with friends, but also to watch videos. So even when she’s sitting with us, she’s not always ‘with us’ in mind. I could take her ipod away (and have in the past) but she needs to take responsibility for her own habits now, while she’s young, because I won’t be able to protect her from the malign influences of computers when she’s an adult!

  45. Susan Roque says

    I like this article very informative for parent like me who is struggling to control and limit my daughter over playing tablet and smartphone games. When I was trying to know how to limit and control them I have searched and tried everything but there’s this app that do such a wonder it was Screen Ninja that had helped me a lot without monitoring them what they do on tablets and smartphones. This Screen Ninja helped me control and limit their usage and playing time and if they want an additional playing time they need to solve a math problem to gain more minutes and you will just see how they passionately solve math problems. This app helps you to control, limit and at the same time teach them about mathematics depending on their age. :)
    Link: http://bit.ly/screentimeninja

  46. Unsure... says

    Question; how do I handle the kids screen time when it’s my step children and there mom is more lenient and gives in to them? One of the boys watches lots of educational type videos and she feels that’s ok but to me it’s still screen time. We both work nights so sleep is not easy due to kids opposite schedules so sometimes them play vid games while we sleep is helpful. Anytime I bring up the kids on their tablets or computer too much we tend to argue because she feels I’m too hard on them. I see all the traits you describe above in my oldest son. Agressive, impatient, lazy etc. so how do I handle my wife so we are on the same page. She will not read any articles I put in front of her either. Unsure what to do. Kids are very smart but little discipline due to there real father.

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