Limit screen time without scream time

10 tips to help you and your kids manage TV time

Eight-year-old Kyle received no fewer then three new computer and video games for his birthday and his parents are wondering how to keep him under the health professionals’ recommended screen time limit of one and a half hours a day without Kyle throwing a fit.

It can be difficult to impose rules on time spent in front of the TV, computer, video game console, DVD, and handheld players, but it’s not impossible.

Here are the top ten ways to help your child manage screen time and not destroy your valuable parenting relationship.

1. Redirect to other stimulation. Have board games set up, sports equipment ready to go, or recipe ingredients laid out ready for a baking session.

2. Connect, then direct. Be involved and knowledgeable of where they travel on the Internet and whom they play games with. Spend time building the parent-child relationship by taking an interest in their on-line gaming and chatting pursuits. It’s easier to direct them to your activities after you connect for a while in their playground.

3. Don’t punishproblem solve! It’s not a battle of you against them. It’s you and your child against the problem. You are both on the same team! Work the problem out together to everyone’s satisfaction and give your child input into the rules. If the rules meet everyone’s needs, you will gain increased cooperation.

4. Model a balanced life that includes seven keys to health and happiness. Invite your child to participate with you in your pursuit of the seven keys of a balanced life. Many children will get active if the parents or the whole family is involved. Here are 7 keys to a balanced life:

  • Social time – time spent with friends.
  • Physical activity time – exercise, sports, and active play.
  • Mental exercise time – educational activities, games, puzzles, homework, and reading.
  • Spiritual time – volunteering, meditating, solitude, unstructured play, church and just time doing nothing but reflecting
  • Family time – doing projects or chores together
  • Financial time – job
  • Hobby time – leisure pursuits and projects

5. Issue time tokens. Laminate time cards that are given out to each child during the week. They can choose when to "spend" their screen time. Perhaps you can suggest that each hour of physical activity will garner a child an extra token of screen time.

6. Daily schedule. Draw up a daily schedule on paper and discuss where screen time fits in with the day’s already scheduled activities. Children can sign into time slots.

7. Contract. Have a Family Conference to discuss needs and draw up a weekly or monthly agreement that has limits decided by both the parent and child together. Have both parties put on their non-negotiable items and sign their name to its agreement. Display in a prominent place. Point to it when the complaining occurs. Be sure to include a date when the contract is up for renewal.

8. Change the environment. Sometimes, it’s easier to move around the setting then to change the other person. Seriously consider whether adding more equipment and hardware will add to the screen time and decide to not bring it into the house. Move the computer and gaming systems into the main family area. Having one unit for the children to share means more fighting over screen time, but can also mean more time spent in learning the valuable skill of negotiating and less individual screen time.

9. Teach your child the fine art of haggling! "Hey, Eric, Wow, you made another level! Good for you! Now, I need you to do the dishes. What time would you like to get at them?" Insist they give you a time and haggle when they give you an outrageous one. Giving choices to your child makes it easier for them to abide by their agreements.

10. Keep to routines. If children always know that daily meals, homework and chores need to be done before the fun starts, then they are less likely to argue with "what’s always been the rule."

Remember that you have the most power to negotiate rules and limits before the machine’s power button goes on!

Judy Arnall, is a speaker, mother of five "gamer" children, and author of Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery (Professional Parenting Canada 2007).