Cooped-Up Kids: Rules for Computer and Television
By Carla Beuning

Kids ages 2-17 spend an average of 19 hours and 40 minutes watching television each week. With rising concerns about the diet and exercise habits of American kids, it’s important to have a strategy when you decide to cut back on television or computers. Kristine Berggren, author of “Strategies for Stay-at-Home Parents” (Meadowbrook Press) offers five good ways to help your family cut back on “screen time.”

Keep in mind that screen time is more than just TV time; computer use can spiral out of control as well (there are even computer addiction recovery camps for children). According to Berggren, “It may seem counterintuitive to limit children’s access to computers in a society that can barely remember when a mouse was merely a rodent, but it’s important to use computers in proportion to their true educational or entertainment value.”

When cooped up inside during winter, television and computer entertainment can be tempting. Use these tips to help limit the amount of time your family spends watching the infamous “tube” or surfing the endless Internet.

Set a time limit for your child. Try using a simple chart to track screen time. Get some stickers and assign a value to each. (Let’s say each sticker represents a half-hour.) Each week give your child the appropriate number of stickers. Have your child put the stickers on a chart as screen time is spent. When the stickers are gone, no more screen time until next week.

Limit your own screen time. Set a good example. Try taping your own favorite shows to watch after your kids go to bed, and try not to aimlessly surf the Internet too much.

Establish priorities. Homework, piano practice and other responsibilities come before screen time.

Screen your child’s selections. Try to watch a program or movie before you let your child watch it so you can decide whether it’s appropriate. Always check out computer games and Web sites before you let your child see them as well.
Control your screen population. The fewer screens you have in your house, the less important they’ll seem and the less they’ll tempt you. Figure out the minimum number of screens that would serve your family’s needs.

Of course, remember that time spent doing homework on the computer would not count against your child’s limits,” says Berggren. “Nobody is denying that computers and television, when used correctly, have educational possibilities. But practicing moderation can be very healthy.”