Unplug your kids this summer

Jul 6, 2012 at 4:00 p.m. ET

When the weather heats up and school’s out, some kids want nothing more than a chance to veg in front of the television watching cartoons or playing video games. Moderate TV time by introducing firm limits and offering kids alternatives to plugging in.

Take a technology timeout
Girl watching TV

Research has attributed too much screen time to increasing the risk of obesity in kids, as well as discouraging kids from developing meaningful relationships with peers. The National Institutes of Health report that television may contribute to poor school performance and may delay literacy. Over the summer, when it’s more important than ever for kids to stay fit, stay sharp and make friends, learn how to unplug your kids.

Make TV a reward, not a given

If your children wake up in the morning and turn on the TV first thing, it’s time to reconsider television’s role in your household. Most parents rely on the TV to keep kids occupied at obscenely early hours, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, if kids watch an hour of TV in the morning and then watch a couple more hours over the rest of the day, they’re watching too much TV. HeathyChildren.org recommends that parents limit TV use to no more than one or two hours per day. To cut down on TV time, use it as a reward for good behavior, completed chores and study time. Allow kids to “buy” TV time with behavior points and encourage them to prioritize their favorite shows instead of mindlessly tuning in to whatever happens to be on.

Kids playing video games and eating junk food

Limit video game time

Games like Just Dance get kids moving, but they’re still video games. A better option is putting on some music and dancing around the room or dancing out in the yard. Keep this in mind when your kids are spending a great deal of time playing computer and console games. Many video games offer learning opportunities, and some are better than others, but all games should be limited just as television time is limited. Set specific times for free play and consider disallowing video games entirely a few days a week to get kids in the habit of finding other things to do.

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Provide alternatives

Your kids aren’t going to like losing screen time. Prepare for the inevitable backlash of whining and cries of boredom by having alternatives in mind. Make a long list of potential activities. Create an additional list of chores for kids to choose from if they insist that they have nothing to do. Just avoid setting up reading or homework as punishments. You don’t want your kids to consider learning a negative consequence. Take your children to a bookstore or library. Arrange play dates. Get them moving on playground equipment, sports teams and recreational classes.

Cut down on app time

Angry Birds may be an addiction you and your child have in common, but it doesn’t mean you should hand your phone over every time your kid wants to play. Smartphones and tablet computers end up in kids’ hands everywhere from in the car to at the table in a restaurant. All that screen time adds up. Next time you’re tempted to hand your child your iPhone, hand her some crayons and a notepad. Get out a board game or a puzzle. If you want to reward your child with a limited amount of time playing with an app, try to stick to educational apps that promote reading, math and problem-solving skills. Solving the problem of needing to kill some thieving pigs doesn’t count.

Find interactive iPhone and Ipad apps for kids >>

More on kids and TV

Television as a conversation starter
Is your child watching too much television?
Kids and TV: Break the addiction