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How to cut down on your kids' screen time

Our kids spend their days surrounded by screens. With TVs, computers, iPads, video game consoles, and smartphones, it’s almost impossible to avoid a media overload.

And the problem is only getting worse: studies have shown that 8- to 18-year-olds now spend an average of over 7½ hours a day with some form of media.

But how can parents tackle this problem? What is a normal amount of screen time, and what tools are available to help us set acceptable limits?

Perhaps the first thing to recognize is that not all screen time is inherently “bad.” For example, reading a good book on a Kindle or using the computer to research a homework project are two examples of the positive use of screens.

What we are trying to cut down on is “casual screen time,” or the screen time that replaces exercise and time spent socializing with family and friends. And here, the biggest culprit is still the TV.

The Kaiser report found that the TV is regularly on during meals in 64 percent of U.S. households and is on “most of the time” in 45 percent of homes. Think how much media consumption and screen time could be eliminated if we could just hit the TV off switch a little more often.

The next most important thing we can do is introduce some rules. The Kaiser research found that in homes where parents set limits, children consumed an average of three hours less media a day.

Here are some rules that are guaranteed to dramatically cut down on your child’s screen time:

  • No screens during meal times. That includes meals in restaurants as well as at home. How many times have witnessed families that are totally disengaged when they go out for a meal because the parents are constantly checking their BlackBerrys while the kids are playing handheld video games.

  • No screens during homework. Kids call it multi-tasking but instead it’s one big distraction, resulting in poor concentration and lower grades.

  • Limit casual screen time to an hour a day. And only when all homework and chores have been completed.

  • No screens in the bedroom. That means all screens, including phones and smartphones. Late-night texting and Web surfing have been cited as two of the main reasons why today’s teens are not getting enough sleep, with consequences that range from poor academic performance to obesity.

Once these basic rules are in place, try to monitor exactly how much screen time your child is exposed to each day. Nearly all computers and video game consoles have built-in parental controls, which can be used to regulate the amount of time your child spends surfing the Web or playing games. Agree with your child what is appropriate; you can even draw up a regular schedule so there can be no argument over what’s allowed.

Above all, set a good example. Most children learn their good and bad habits from their parents. Make sure that the amount of time they spend in front of screens is one of the good ones.

Do you have other tips for regulating screen time? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

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