I recently wrote about what we know from research about the negative effects of too much media exposure for children. That leaves families with the question of what to do about it in their own homes. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly encourages parents to avoid having children under two years old watch any television or other video media. At this age children’s brains are developing at a rapid rate, and we know that they learn best from actual interaction with the environment (like blocks and dolls) and with people, like you. After two years of age the Academy recommends limiting media exposure to 1 to 2 hours a day.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry advises teaching your children to use television wisely. Watch television with your child and engage your child in conversation about the show. Link the content to experiences in your family. Note behavior that you admire, such as kindness and sharing. Point out the real consequences of violent behavior, especially if, as in cartoons, the consequences are unrealistic. When children watch violent television before they are able to, they respond in one of two ways. Some children who are prone to anxiety become frightened and have difficulty sleeping at night or separating from parents at the beginning of the day. Others simply become numb to violence in the media. This is also troubling. One should be upset by watching people get killed or injured.

Advertising is a big concern for children watching television. They need education about the ways that advertising are trying to trick them. Explain to your child how the advertiser is trying to trick the audience and that the advertiser does not care whether the product is good for you. See whether you child can point out the ways the advertiser tries to trick us in ads. Perhaps the ad suggests that people who use the product are happy, or that they meet beautiful women or handsome men. Kids can really enjoy finding the ways advertisers try to influence. They feel as though they have the upper hand. If you are watching sport events with your children, be prepared to do some early alcohol education and to answer questions about drugs for erectile dysfunction. These are issues that can be handled, but it is why it is good for a parent to be nearby or watching along with the child to interpret what the screen shows.

Consider when the television is on in your household. You can set a good example by having it off during homework time and during meals. Children will tell you they can multi-task, but recently we have learned that the merits of multi-tasking is greatly over-rated. People are not really able to do two things at once well. Having the television off during meals also communicates that this is a time for family members to talk to each other. Rather than let your child watch for long interrupted periods, ask your child to choose specific shows to watch. It is much easier to monitor television, computer and video game use and content if these are not installed in your children’s rooms. Children will get to sleep more easily on their own if they are left to read or play quietly with toys at night.

We now have ratings that advise parents about what shows and games are developmentally appropriate for children at different ages. You will also make your own decisions. Talk with other parents about their thoughts so that you can get an idea about the norms in your child’s school or neighborhood. Don’t be afraid to set your own standards, but be aware that if you deviate too far from the norm, you will meet resistance, especially in later elementary school and middle school.

How do you set limits like this? Simply managing access to electronic media in the ways I described above makes setting limits easier. It also helps if you have a policy from a young age. However, if you realize that your television policy has lapsed, you can still pull it back. Perhaps you child has been home sick and you have allowed her to watch movies for much of the day. It will be work to go back to the regular arrangement, but it will be worth it. Many people have a kitchen timer near the television or game system that signals to the child and to you that the allotted time is up.

It is also helpful to do some problem solving with your children about what else they can do when they can’t enjoy electronic entertainment. If you can join you child in any of these activities, so much the better.

• Does your child play a musical instrument? Some children enjoy just doodling around with a guitar or piano.
• Others enjoy drawing or crafts projects. If this is so for your child, you will need to have supplies on hand.
• Sculpey or Fimo.
• Some play sports and enjoy going outside to shoot hoops or kick a ball into a soccer goal.
• What about jigsaw puzzles? Many families find it helpful to keep a puzzle out so anyone can stop for a bit to try to fit in a piece.
• What about knitting or crocheting? Many people—young and old find these to be calming activities. I’ve even known boys who knit.
• Of course, there is reading.
• Legos entertain many children for hours.

I think you get my drift—children need suggestions and guidance in order to develop non-electronic entertainments.

These are arrangements that get re-negotiated as your child grows up, as the seasons change, and as new shows and video games become available. As your child gets older you will need to include her more in the decision-making. It can be very difficult, but I encourage parents to unite, help children develop other pursuits, and place limits on screen time.

Author's Bio: 

Parent Coach and Licensed Psychologist, Carolyn Stone, Ed.D. (www.drcarolynstone.com) educates parents of children with learning disabilities, ADHD, Asperger Syndrome and anxiety about their children’s needs using humor and evidence-based practices. Parents learn new strategies through role play and homework. She teaches children to manage their anxiety and attention and to understand their learning styles. You can learn about Dr. Stone’s work from her blog at http://www.drcarolynstone.com/blog/.