Practical Dad

Monitoring Kids and Electronics

Kids are spending an average of six hours daily in front of the an electronic screen - PC, TV or game console.  A timespan so long that even I was surprised.

And I don't surprise easily when it comes to kids.

In a June 2, 2009 JAMA news release, Dr. Victor Strasburger reported that the typical American kid spends an average of six hours daily in front of an electronic screen - either TV, PC or game console.  It's at the point that two-thirds of all kids have their own television; which gives credence to my kids' claims that they're in the minority when they have no TV sets in their rooms.

Most are aware of the long-term concerns.  Desensitivization towards violence, increasingly casual attitudes towards sex, greater obesity rates. 

But are they aware of how hard it is to control the electronics?  We have purposefully tried to limit the electronic exposure - no bedroom television sets, one family PC in family room, one DVD player in the basement - for the kids.  And even though I'm home, it's a constant struggle to keep tabs on who's doing which media and how long they've been doing it.  It's seductive and seemingly addictive.

So what do I presently do? 

  • With the summer months, there are no electronics before noon.  No television, no computer games and no handheld games.  And yes, I have to periodically prowl the house to verify that it's being upheld since children tend to "forget".
  • Try to enforce a two hour electronics limit in the course of a day.  That means that I have to sometimes appear like a member of the Gestapo, forcing the kids off the device when that time limit is up.
  • Actually kick the kids out of the house so that they're in the outdoors or simply tell them to read or go listen to music.

What am I considering?

  • Sitting down with the kids and the television section each morning to teach them how to use the schedule.  The oldest two know, but are simply used to flipping on the box and switching around.
  • Helping the kids work out how they want to divide their screen time.  All TV for a good movie?  Nothing on the box, so a Wii tournament?  Even if it sounds overly controlling to an adult, the large majority of kids do not instinctively know how to make these distinctions so the process has to modelled for them.
  • Perhaps create a grid showing the date and each kid's name with the start and end time for each electronic activity?

That last proposal is probably too impractical, but the real nut is probably in the second proposal.  The kids get their cues from us, and if they see us come home and collapse after a meal in front of the television, they'll take it to heart that that's how things happen.  You take to the brain candy to escape from the daily grind of living.

So perhaps while I sit with the kids to review the schedule, I can also demonstrate that I'm likewise planning the time available to its best electronic use.

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