Kids & Parenting

Cutting down on TV time

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Consider setting up a TV account for each child such as an hour of time they may spend in front of the TV
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Show your family life beyond TV.

Of all the New Year's resolutions we all make, one of the most common and hardest to keep is cutting down on TV time. It's easy enough to recognize that we should but somehow one program leads to another and by the time we look up, another evening is gone.


Perhaps we need to look a bit harder at why the TV holds our attention when we would really like to do other things, either on our own or with our families.


Like all changes of old habits, be prepared to spend some time changing this one and trying a different strategy if the first one doesn't work. Be prepared also for the change to be slow.


Changing your TV viewing one day a week is more likely to succeed than trying to reorganize everyone's TV time abruptly for the whole week. With a little thought, you will be surprised at the changes you make, step-by-step, and the results you produce.


Here are some questions to ask and some strategies to try. Very soon you will have good ones that work best for your family.


Where is the TV?


These days, and perhaps at your house, the question is, where are the TVs? If a TV is part of the furnishings in your childrens' bedrooms, consider moving it out. By putting a TV in the room, you may be unconsciously placing a higher value on watching television than you had planned. Children watch what we do as much as they listen to what we say. And while you are at it, don't ever offer going to their room and watching TV as a reward.


Are you really watching what's on?


Ask each member of your family what programs they have watched on TV during the week—and what they actually remember about watching them. This is a good way to open a conversation about how to cut down on TV time by choosing the programs you want to watch.


Help your children figure out what programs they really enjoy and help them turn off the TV when those programs are done. Consider setting up a TV account for each child such as an hour of time they may spend in front of the TV; but when the hour's over, it's over. 


How can kids spend their TV account?


You will of course have better results with cutting down on TV time if you can arrange to be more available to children when they first begin to grapple with TV-less time. Perhaps you can help them make a list of other things they might do and post it on the refrigerator. If this is after-school and pre-dinner time, try involving them more in the preparations for dinner. A child old enough to understand cause and effect can certainly decide to spend the time in his or her TV account during that period, but then must confront after-dinner time with no TV.


TV time is up


One way to keep you from becoming the TV police is to buy each of your children a distinctive kitchen timer. Dollar stores are a fine place to find timers shaped like animals, fruit, or vegetables. Teach each child how to set his or her timer. When the timer goes off, the TV goes off; it's not because Mom says so but rather because the chicken says so. Surprisingly, timers make you much less the villain than trying to keep time yourself.


Is there something else to do?


One of the reasons family plans to cut down on TV time fail is that they don't actively replace the TV with another activity. It's easy to list all the things you could do, but that list works only if you track down and schedule what you could do.


- Check with your local recreation department; could you all learn to play tennis or golf?

- Look into your local adult education program; could you and your spouse be mastering the mambo instead of fighting over the remote?

- Go to the public library; is there a couple's book group you would enjoy? (One public library created a mother-teen daughter book group that was a great success).

- If you've thought about joining the pool or the skating rink, is now the time?


Additional measures to cut down TV time


Drastic problems sometimes require drastic solutions. Is it finally time to get a puppy? Is it time to declare Friday as family night and stick to it with a special meal and board games? Should Monday night be a whole evening of no TV every week?


It's not going to be easy—the last try wasn't easy. But if you can identify how too much TV drains family time, figure out what you and others in your family really want to watch, and actively pursue the things you would rather do instead. This try is the one that's going to succeed!

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