Thursday, May 31, 2012

Managing TV Time for Your Kids

Is there any parent living in a civilized country who doesn't struggle with this? If so, I'd love to meet him or her. At my house, my five year old will often ask to watch a show or two when he first wakes up in the morning. Then he'll ask to watch another a couple hours later, and then another a while after that. Of course I have times where I actually want him to watch TV (like while I'm typing this blog post), because he leaves me alone and lets me get my work done. And to top off the daily TV marathon in our household, I like for him to watch TV before bed, because it seems to calm him down, get him still, and numb his brain a touch.

So for a while, my son was watching about 3 hours of TV per day. And in my opinion (and the opinions of child psychologists) that's an hour too much. You see, I want my kid to have an imagination. I want him to think up his own games and play by himself at times. And I don't want him so used to watching TV that he looses the ability to entertain himself.

Thus I came up with a solution to our "TV Time Troubles". And horror of all horrors, I actually stole this idea from my mom, who did this with me and my siblings when we were younger.

Now I can hear all your voices collectively asking me, "What did you do? What did you do?"

I made tickets. That's right, tickets. I took some card stock, cut out four rectangles, and wrote "TV Ticket: redeemable for 1/2 hour of TV per day" on the strips. Now I give these tickets to my son every morning. When asks to watch TV, I pretty much say yes, but I remind him that when the tickets are gone, they're gone.

I've been using this system for about a week, and it's working well. My son no longer throws a fit when I tell him he can't watch anymore TV, because he has a tangible way of understanding when he's watched enough (he's out of tickets).

So as much as I may not want to admit my mother was right, in this instance, I believe she was.

But like anything, the tickets system isn't perfect. Here's a couple of warnings:

The first day or two we used tickets, my son watched his TV earlier in the day. This soon ended, though, when he realized that he didn't have any tickets left for before bedtime. Now he's spacing out his ticket usage more evenly.

I also had to drop the idea of asking him to watch TV when it was convenient for me. I just leave the choice up to him. Yes, this makes for a bit of a sacrifice on my part, but on the flip side, my son is learning to make his own decisions about television. And it's not too hard for me to adjust to his schedule and do computer work when HE decides to watch TV.

So there you have it, a fun method to manage your children's TV time. Now I'm curious about the rest of you. What do you use to manage your kid's TV usage? And how many of you find yourselves using some of the techniques your parents once used with you?


  1. My 4 year old also likes to watch tv right when he wakes up and during the day as well. I do try to keep it at a 2 hour minimum but I must admit there are times he watches up to 3 hours.

    What I've noticed is that when I keep him busy with crafts, learning letters, numbers or playing outside, he really gets too distracted to want to be in front of the tv or computer.

    Thanks for idea regarding the tv system, I think that is one idea I will put to use. :)

    1. Distraction is always a good technique, J Grace! I just hope your little guy has a longer attention span than mine. It seems when I try to do a craft with him, I spend twice the time setting it up and cleaning up the mess than he spends on the craft. :(

      It's still a good experience, though. I wouldn't trade it.

  2. This is my constant struggle. My mom actually swears that Sesame Street was the reason we were so smart right off the bat! HA!! I have decided that my kids can watch t.v. in the morning...I like having cartoons on! And then they may watch some in the afternoon...our biggest struggle now that they are older, is video games! They are only allowed to play once a day for an hour. I am bad at keeping track of the time. So mostly, it's my time management that gets them too much screen time!! HA~

    1. Yeah, I'm hoping my kids never find out video games exist. Although we had the 1 hour time limit when I was growing up as well. Actually, we never had a game system. My parents bought us Foosball and air hockey and ping pong tables instead. The computer games were what was limited to an hour.

  3. My current mantra is "turn the TV off!". My kiddos like to watch in the morning, because most of us are slow to wake up and get going, sitting in front of the TV snuggled under a blanket is the favorite way for them. Then we can go most all day without the TV, especially in the warm months. Then evening time, the TV begs to be turned on once again. MY hubby is the worst one for this unfortunately. :(
    We tried using a chart and limiting TV this way, but it doesn't really work well for us. I'm always looking for suggestions.

    1. How fun to see you, Brandi!

      You know, morning seems to be a really popular TV time, at least for those of you who have left comments. My family always watched it before bed, but never in the morning. I think if your kids get in the habit of not watching in the morning, things might go more smoothly for you. But it'll definitely be a rough transition period. Have you thought about limiting the morning TV time to just a half hour show?

  4. My kids don't watch TV on a regular basis at all. Yep, we have turned off the boob tube nearly constantly. And this has been my stance since the first one arrived nearly 10 years ago (I have four kids between the ages of 3 and 9). None of my kids have had regular TV viewing. We allow DVDs/videos about once a week, with a few extra times for special occasions (all four with chicken pox at once constituted a special occasion!), the emphasis on the special.

    Now I don't say all that to pat myself on the back. There are times when I had to resist the very strong urge to plop my kids down in front of the TV because of the whining. And it's hard sometimes to say no to their requests to watch a DVD. Not having cable helps immensely, that and not being able to get PBS in very well at all with our rabbit-ears antenna (Yes, we're living in the dark ages). My husband and I gave up TV for the most part, too, although he does watch some American Idol and football games in the fall.

    To kick the TV habit, you have to expect the first week to be the worst in terms of whining and begging from the kids. But if you stick with it, and send them outside to play or to their rooms to play when the whining gets too much, you'll find that they will find something else to do. My posting on June 14 will discuss how to beat the boredom blues (shameless plug!).

    1. I'll be looking forward to that post, Sarah. I'm not sure I see/feel the need to completely get rid of TV at our house, but its neat to hear about your success with it! We don't get any TV stations (yes, we really live in a place that doesn't have TV stations). So anything my kids watch is online through netflix, that's it.