8 Secrets to Managing your Child’s Screen Time

When you limit screen time, you give your child the gift of more time to read, engage in active play, and be a healthier child.
by: GreatSchools Staff 

1) If your child complains that all his friends are watching a particular TV show that contains a lot of sex and or violence, explain what your values are and why you are sticking to them. Or if you know your child is more prone to nightmares than his friend, exercise caution in letting him watch scary shows, even if all his friends are watching them.

2) Be Conscious of Age-Appropriateness.
“What’s OK for 8 isn’t OK for 4,” says Green. Use your judgment and consult media reviews. Be aware that although several companies are marketing videos for babies and toddlers, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children under the age of 2. And a PG-13 rating on a movie doesn’t necessarily mean that all 13-year-olds are ready to see it or that younger children shouldn’t see it. It’s a guideline and it’s up to you to decide.

3) Set Family Rules and Stick to Them.
“It’s just like anything else in parenting,” says Katz. “You’ve got to set guidelines.” You could say, for example, that watching TV is OK from 7 to 9 p.m. or after the homework is done or only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Consistency through the years is also important. Katz adds: “If you are a permissive parent for the first six years, it makes it harder to switch that off later on.”

4) Limit Screen Time.
“While most experts recommend no more than one to two hours of screen time (TV, DVDs, computers and video games) per day, most kids are in front of a screen 45 hours per week,” says Katz. It’s important to consider that it’s not just TV but all forms of media that need to be considered when setting guidelines. “Kids need to have time to go outside and play, and pull from other experiences besides the media,” notes Green.

5) Use Technology to Control the Media.
TiVo, DVDs and videotapes of programs are easier to control and a better bet than watching whatever is on. Green says that these are all great tools because a parent can hit the pause button, talk to their kids and discuss certain scenes or behaviors as they are happening.

6) Have Regular Family Movie Nights and use them as Opportunities to Watch Together and Discuss.

Be on the alert for teachable moments. “Pose questions like ‘Why do you think the characters are being mean to each other?'” suggests Katz.

7) Keep Media out of Kids’ Bedrooms.
It’s much easier to exercise control when your child is within view. So that means keeping video games, the TV and the computer in a common area where you can keep an eye on things.

8) Check What the Experts Have to Say.
Common Sense Media has more than 8,000 reviews of a range of media: movies, TV programs, music, videos, Web sites, books and magazines. The organization is continually adding to the site, with a major “upload” of new reviews once a week and a free weekly email newsletter. Common Sense Media reviewers are looking at media from a child development perspective. “We don’t only review media that is considered ‘squeaky clean,'” says Katz. Reviewers consider a range of media and take into account what is particularly popular with kids.

To help parents make informed choices, Parents’ Choice gives annual awards for books, toys, music and storytelling, magazines, software, video games, television and websites. You can read reviews of award-winning products on the Parents’ Choice site, and you can look for the Parents’ Choice seal on products when you shop. The organization also has a free email newsletter you can sign up for.

Awards are given at several levels: gold, silver honors, recommended, approved, classic and FunStuff. Parents’ Choice looks for products that “entertain and teach with flair, stimulate imagination and inspire creativity.” To be considered, products must not have any violent impact or project racial or gender stereotypes. All products go through a multifaceted review process, including reviews from staff and students at schools and day care centers, child development experts, directors of education at museums and experts in their field. “If we need to review a game about dinosaurs, we’ll find a paleontologist to check it out for accuracy,” says Green. Only 20% of products that are considered receive an award.

“We consider Parents’ Choice a watchdog with a sense of humor,” says Green. “We have to recognize that kids need to have fun. They are overstressed and overscheduled.” Quality media can provide an avenue for that fun.

Green recommends storytelling tapes. “There’s an art to storytelling. A good storyteller can pull a child into the story while letting him use his imagination because not every picture is drawn for him,” she notes. The act of listening to a story builds listening skills and trains a child to concentrate and give his undivided attention. Green notes that so many children are growing up multitasking among different media that they lose the ability to focus on one task at a time.