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Kids and TV: Break the addiction

Abbi Perets lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and five children.






Tune in, turn off?

Is the television a constant presence in your house? No doubt, there are some great shows out there (did you see that shirtless Jack Bauer the other night??), but are your kids taking advantage of the DVR and your 437 channels? Are they rushing through homework to plop on the couch and catch up with Miley? How much TV is too much for kids, and how can you reclaim control of the remote?

Kids Watching TVIt's often easy to keep your first child from the television for a year, maybe even several. There's no one to tell her what's on the magic box, after all, and if you simply never turn it on when she's around, she's none the wiser.Until one day when you absolutely need a few minutes to yourself, and you turn on the television. Like magic, your child is addicted, and your future children come into the world clutching a TV Guide in one hand and a DVR remote in the other, or so it seems.

When moderation disappears

Television is not an inherently bad thing. There are plenty of fantastic programs. And it's not too difficult to understand that kids have a need to relate to peers, and one way they do that is via the programs they watch. But when your kids are spending more than an hour a day watching television, how are they finding time to live life?That after-school show quickly morphs into an afternoon of glazed-eye watching. Your requests to join the family for dinner are ignored, bathtime gets pushed back, and suddenly it's nine pm, and you know exactly where your children are: in the same spot they've been for the last six hours.Maybe it's not quite that bad in your house. Maybe your kids manage to keep their grades up. Maybe they do their homework in front of the television and they've convinced you that all their shows are educational. Maybe you're too tired to fight. But maybe, just maybe, moderation has been tossed out the window, and it's too much.

Reclaim the remote

Here's a simple test: Tell your kids there's no TV today and see how they respond. If they shrug their shoulders and move on, they're probably watching a reasonable amount to begin with. If they immediately begin screeching and threaten to call CPS, you've got a couple of addicts on your hand. So what now?You're the parent, and that means you get to make the rules. Experiment with different ideas until you find one that fits your family. Your rule might be one TV-free day per week, or no TV before 7pm. Perhaps you can find some shows you'd like to watch with your kids on the weekends, but during the week, the boob tube stays silent. Whatever you decide, it's not a decision you have to defend, so don't get sucked into that game.

But I'm bored!

TV is easy. Kids are bored? Toss ‘em the remote and go back to whatever you were doing. When you turn off the television, kids suddenly expect to be entertained. If you want to avoid that, prepare in advance.

  • Set an afternoon routine: snack, homework, outside play or indoor games. Try to work in some one-on-one time with a parent, even if it's just 10 minutes per kid.
  • Assign chores and make them fun: the kid who sets the table also gets to fold the napkins into fun shapes (check out napkinfoldingguide.com). The kid who folds the laundry can make towel animals. The thirty minutes prior to dinner is when everyone does chores, and no one sits around.
  • Make a job jar: Those tasks you hate? Write them on paper and stick them in a jar. Kids who are bored and feel the need to announce it in that whiny tone we all know and hate get to pick a job and do it. Complaints should drop off drastically fairly quickly.
  • Spend time with your kids: TV is a poor substitute for parenting. If you commit to spending time doing something — making dinner, folding laundry, grocery shopping, bank runs — with your kids daily or at least weekly, you will change your relationship for the better. Take the time to get to know them. You might find them even more entertaining than Jack Bauer.

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