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Monitoring Television and Screen Time

Aug 04, 2014

At age two, children start paying greater attention to the television. Their attention spans become longer and they can become "hooked" on certain shows. Family therapist Michael Gurian explains that before the age of two a child should be kept from watching television as brain development relied heavily on the sense of touch. But when they get older, how should parents monitor screen time so their kids don’t become a “zombie toddlers”?

Managing screen time for toddlers can be hard. Leeway can be made for online learning tools or games, but the total time needs to be controlled with a daily and/or weekly cap. Generally, psychiatrist Dr. John Ratey explains that one to two hours a day of screen time is the recommended allowance. It doesn't sound like a lot, but your toddler has more important things to do. Your toddler needs to spend time doing activities that will help them to problem solve with tactile objects, develop hand eye coordination, and practice social interaction skills. Their favorite television shows may say they teach these topics, but real world application helps their brains to work in a different region.

To develop a plan, take a look at your normal schedule. Are there time blocks that lend themselves to scheduled TV time?  Perhaps early mornings when your child is still groggy, unwinding while you cook dinner, or right after dinner before an unplugged nighttime routine. Most children's shows last between 15 to 30 minutes, which can be the perfect amount of time at certain intervals throughout the day. Do take your child's favorite shows into consideration. If the regular schedule doesn't fit into your plans, consider using a DVD, streaming content to the television, or using a web-connected device.

If you allow your toddler to carry a device with them, remember to add that time to their daily total. Once you start keeping track, those minutes of pacification can add up. Plus take into account what they're missing out on--discovering nature, socializing with others, and learning manners.

Parents can also monitor television usage through parental controls. Current TV models come with V-chip parental controls which allow parents to block programming. Cable and satellite companies also have options available that require a password. These features can be used separately or together to limit access. For instance, even if your little one has his own remote to turn on the TV and flip to certain channels, he can't watch his show without your code. Education specialist Carolyn McWilliams also explains that tablets or other connected devices can also be set up to use pre-portioned time limits or require a user log in. If you're afraid you'll let their time run over, set an alarm on your cell phone or use an old-fashioned kitchen timer. Setting a timer will also allow your child to know much time is left.

Remember you hold the power, and in most cases control of the remote. So if you have to disengage your toddler, simply turn off the power. For smaller electronics, try to power them down together. Don't make excuses, or try to pacify them about why they have to stop. Just tell them their time is up, end of story. If your child refuses, simply store the device out of reach.  

If you currently let your child watch TV or use the Internet, implementing a new plan may not go over well. To counteract this, involve them in the planning process so they feel they have a voice or taper them down gradually. You'll have some unruly viewers, but stay firm. Your quick-witted toddler will soon survive the crackdown unscathed. If antics persist, do as you would during any tantrum. Let them have their minute to vent, and then redirect them to another activity. Put a puzzle together, build with blocks, try out a simple board game, or play I Spy with a book. Dr. Ratey explains that being tuned in to each other will draw you closer and reaffirm your family bond as you grow together! 


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I didn't let my kids watch any television until they were 3. I didn't want them to become attached to television before they were even old enough to really understand what it was.

We use parental controls and they really help us to monitor what our kids watch and make sure they waren't watching anything too violent.

Young kids really shouldn't be watching television as they are developing a lot and interaction with others is key to their development.

We only let our kids watch max 2 hours of tv a day. Sometimes its hard but it helps them be more active in other activities.