Cut The Cord

By Chandra Orr

June 5, 2009 5 min read

CUT THE CORD

Curb technology use to avoid future problems

Chandra Orr

Creators News Service

It has a pull even parents can't deny, but too much technology for youngsters causes serious weight problems, interferes with school work and overexposes them to risky behaviors like violence, sex and drug use.

Yet, on average, children ages 6 and younger spend two hours per day in front of the television, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). To put it in perspective, that's about the same amount of time they spend playing outside.

That's a big jump from the pediatrician-recommended limits. According to the AAP, children ages 2 and younger should not watch television at all, and children 2 years and older should watch no more than two hours of quality programming per day.

The problem lies with parents. "The television is one of the world's best babysitters -- you know where they are, they aren't hurting each other and they're sitting in one place -- and that's part of the problem," said Dr. Thomas Phelan, clinical psychologist and author of the award-winning "1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12" ($15, Child Management).

Want to curb your kids' screen time? Phelan suggests the following:

SET LIMITS

Determine how many hours your children can spend each day watching television, playing video games or surfing the Internet -- and involve them in the process. They're more likely to cooperate when they have some input, Phelan said.

"Rather than shoving an idea down their throat, start out with a question. Ask them, "Did you know that doctors recommend there be a limit on television and video games? Why do you think they recommend that?'" Phelan said.

Reinforce good answers, and emphasize the importance of limiting time spent on technology. Let them know you'll take their input into consideration when determining limits -- and be ready to enforce those limits.

"You need to negotiate and agree beforehand on what the limits are. When it's time to turn off the TV or the computer, parents need to be consistent and firm. That's not a time for arguing or talking. You made a deal, and you don't renegotiate," Phelan explained.

WORK FIRST, PLAY SECOND

Help kids keep tech time in perspective by setting a few additional parameters based on the "work first, play second" principle. For example, no video games until they complete their homework, no Internet until their room is clean and no television until after dinner.

"Video games, television, the Internet -- these things have so much power and so much pull, parents can use them as rewards in a sense," Phelan explained. "Kids have to earn their play by doing their work first."

GET ACTIVE

Scheduled activities will help get your kids away from the screen and engaged in physical activity. "If your kids are active spontaneously, that's great. Otherwise, you'll have to get them involved, but you can't just pull something out of your hat," Phelan said. "You have to structure the activities ahead of time and have a consistent, set routine. The goal is to do something aerobic every day."

Have them pick an after-school activity like swimming, gymnastics or soccer, and make plans to get physical as a family. Brush up on your bowling one night a week, take a walk together each night after dinner or plan to spend each Saturday riding bikes at the park.

BE A ROLE MODEL

Do you come home each night and immediately rush to check your e-mail? Is the television on all the time for background noise? If parents expect their kids to get up, get outside and get active, they have to set an example.

"Modeling is certainly important," Phelan said. "If you want your kids to be physical, you have to be physical yourself. Get yourself and your kids out of the house. Go for a walk. Take a bike ride together. Do something with them."

CHOOSE QUALITY

All technology is not created equal. Educational programming and documentaries, instructive websites and skill-building video games have their place, and parents should strive to strike a balance between fun and informative screen time.

It shouldn't be a free-for-all, though. Instead, spend some time surfing the Net with your child, opt for a National Geographic documentary and choose video games that encourage reading and develop math skills. Controlled programming is the goal, Phelan said.

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