“I hate it when people let the TV babysit their children.” “Can you believe they let their kids just sit in front of the television all day?!” We’ve all heard these comments. To be honest, before I had children of my own, I thought the same things from time to time. I don’t think I was ever brash enough to say them out loud, but the thoughts crossed my mind. And now I have children. In the mornings, all I want is 15 minutes of peace and quiet to get my life-saving cup of coffee and make some form of breakfast for everyone. The reality is, Dinosaur Train and Sid the Science Kid have more than once given me enough time to feed a baby, change a diaper, get a shower and dress for the day. I will never again judge a parent for allowing their child to sit in front of a TV!
That being said, over the past few months, I had noticed that Ian wanted more and more media time every day. By media time, I’m not just talking about the TV, but also iPads, smart phones, computers, etc. Everything he wanted to watch was educational and age appropriate. I mean, he just turned three and he knows quite a bit about the digestive system (thanks to Sid the Science Kid), can name quite a few dinosaurs (thanks to Dinosaur Train), and recognizes a lot of his letters (Super WHY!). But still, as a parent, I knew this wasn’t a good thing and I was growing more and more uncomfortable with the amount of media time he was getting each day. We knew we had to make a change. So today, I thought I’d share our media time “fix” with you; just in case you are facing the same problem and are looking for ideas. J
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under two should have no media time and children over two should have no more than two hours a day. Studies have also shown that there is a link between too much media time and attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. It isn’t hard to see why. Even at Ian’s young age, he would sometimes rather just sit in front of the television or play a game on the iPad than go outside and play. I can remember being similarly aggravated with my mom as a child when she would make me go outside for some fresh air and exercise. I get it now.
So with all of this knowledge, we came to the conclusion that it was time to start limiting media time in our house. When we were at Ian’s three year check-up, the doctor mentioned media time and we started really reinforcing that with Ian, reminding him that his doctor said in order to grow and be strong and healthy, we couldn’t watch too much TV. Then we started setting the timer on my iPhone. After discovering that the sound of the timer going off really stressed him out, I let him choose which sound he wanted and he gets an hour of media time every day. If he wants to watch TV or play with the iPad, he is allowed to do so, as long as the timer hasn’t gone off. When he asks to watch Caillou or to play on the iPad, we turn it on and start the timer. There is little begging and crying. I never have to decide whether to allow him to watch, because the timer is in control, not me. When he finishes a show and wants to watch something else, I ask him if he really wants to continue watching or if he wants to save the rest of his media time for later. I just remind him that if he uses it all now, there won’t be any more for later. Shockingly, the majority of the time, he will tell me that he wants to save the rest for later. I just pause the timer and start it back up the next time. Once he hears that timer after his hour has accumulated, he understands that there is no more media time for the day.
The first few days were a little rough. He understood the concept, but most definitely didn’t want to abide by it. I found that if I gave him a two minute warning in advance, he did much better when the timer went off. I also tried to be sure to have something else to do to make the transition easier for him. When I knew it was going to go off, I would have the sprinkler ready outside or have the finger paints out for some craft time. Now when the timer goes off, he looks at me to make sure I’ve noticed and waits for me to turn the television off or put the iPad away. I’ve been very positively surprised by the results of this change. I like the background noise that the TV used to offer, so now there is always music. I’ll catch Ian singing along while he’s building a Lego castle or coloring. I often hear him talking to his stuffed animals in the playroom and we’ve had extra trains and forts set up in the living room lately. We’re also reading a lot more during the day now, instead of just at bedtime. Every household has different rules and different things they are comfortable with, but if you are concerned about the amount of media time your children are getting, I urge you to give this a try. The transition really was not as difficult as I had feared and we are all enjoying our days playing without the constant conflict surrounding the television.