Michele Borba: Is Your Kid Into a Couch Potato? How to Curb Kids’ TV Habits

by | Jun 9, 2010 | Uncategorized

Can’t why can’t watch TV just two more hours?

But there’s nothing to do …. it’s my favorite show!

Let’s face it, it’s easy for kids to fall into the TV trap of spending too much time in front of the tube. After all, it’s simple, effortless, no-brainer entertainment, and a bit addicting. Let’s admit it… it’s also easier for us.

The fact is the more kids watch that tube, the more time is lost for nurturing creativity, learning sports or hobbies, playing in the great outdoors, practicing social skills, reading, or just finding ways to entertain and enjoy themselves. Those key “Family connecting moments” are lost as well. If you need a Reality Check, what about this one: Did you know that 25 percent of three years old watch more than five hours of TV a day? Ahhh!  I reported on TODAY show recently another dismal finding: The average American kid 8 to 17 years of age is now plugged into some kind of media about 7 and a half hours a day. (Yikes!)

But what about your family’s viewing habits? Are you finding your kids are becoming couch potatoes? Are they watching that TV longer than you think is appropriate? How much TV viewing each day do you allow your kids to watch? Have you ever really stopped to track how much TV your kids do watch each day?  Beware: summer is the time when viewing dramatically increases.

I dare you to take the Parent Challenge:

THE PARENT CHALLENGE: Why not keep a diary for the next two days of your kids’ TV habits? It’s the best way to find if you need to reform their viewing behavior. Just keep a pen and paper near each TV and jot the number of kid viewing minutes. Then add them up (or have your kids do the adding – it’s a great math lesson). The number just may shock–or delight–you.

If you (like the majority of parents – so let’s reduce the guilt here) discovered your kids are in front of that tube more than you’d like, here are seven parenting secrets to curb your family’s viewing habits:

Set limits. Figure out the number of maximum number of hours you want your kids to watch TV and stick to those hours. Make kids track their viewing hours. Just keep a paper and pencil by that set. Enforce a rule that family members must pre-choose the shows they want to watch (no channel surfing allowed) and stick to those shows.

Turn it off. Make a rule: When the show is over, turn off the TV. And hide the remote. No surfing allowed. Another rule: READ first, then watch. Or “CHORES first, then watch.” Or NO WATCHING on (name the times and dates).

Unplug playdates. Set a house rule: no TV with playdates. If you want your child to learn how to get along, then turn off that TV when friends come over.

Make bedroom TV-free. Kids who have a TV in their bedroom watch 286 hours a year. Research shows those flickering monitors also disrupt kids’ sleep and older kids often turn on those shows when you’re in bed. Get that TV out of your child’s bedroom. (Please??)

Create alternatives. If your kids say, “There’s nothing to do!” then give them a TV alternative. Just make sure the “something” is visible and get the kids to help you get organized. Stock a shelf with plastic storage bins with creative activities: like popsicle sticks, glue, pens, paper, yarn, big needles, and burlap; set out puzzles and board games. Or teach your kids to cook, garden, collect bugs, play an instrument, watch clouds, roll in the mud, (a true lost art!) play Candyland or card games. Anything!!!

Read. Now there’s a profound idea, eh? Kids watch TV four times as much as they reading, so encourage it. Set a time each night where everyone picks up a book. Some parents set a rule: You must read the same number of minutes you watch TV. Or you must read first, then watch. Or you must just READ!!!!

Set a TV-Free Family Night. If you have TV addicts then wean your family off the TV gradually. Start with establishing one specified night (or hours) as TV free. Then take advantage of the time and do something as a family.

When worse comes to worse, remember you do pay the electric bill. Feel free to pull the plug or remove the TV all together. It’s a fast way to help your kids find something better to do.

One more subtle hint: Don’t be a couch potato yourself! Kids learn habits from their parents. So take stock on your watching habits. It just may turn out that your kid is copying you.