Setting Limits on TV and Video Games (or How NOT to Win Mother-of-the Year)

By Jen Ashenfelter 

There are a lot of distractions for children today: Wii, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo DS, iPod, iPad, cell phones, Angry Birds and, oh yeah, that old favorite, the television. It’s hard to believe but when I grew up—not only did I walk to school uphill both ways…I’m not kidding—video games were played on an Atari system, the phone was tethered to the wall, a television was controlled by two legs and five fingers, and an apple was something you ate with lunch. Consider me ancient.

If the scientists and experts thought television and video games were bad for the healthy development of children back then, what’s a parent to do today? Times and technology may have changed but the answer remains the same: Turn it all off. Keep it off. It’s that easy. Ok, well sometimes it’s not that easy but we’ll get to that later. 

Long, long ago…

During the school year, I was not allowed to watch television during the week. Friday evening through Sunday evening was it—Love Boat, American Bandstand and the Sunday Disney movie totally rocked. And we never owned an Atari—a game of Monopoly could last 1 ½ days if we played it right. A focus on homework and school activities were my responsibility and high grades were expected.

I hated the rule. I will never win a contest about 80’s TV trivia, but I’m happy to report that I survived, graduated ranked 12th in my class, used the “therapy fund” to pay for college, and today I’m a fairly well-adjusted adult.

The circle of life goes on…

Yes, the most hated, evil rule ever devised in the history of parenting lives on—in my house. But it’s bigger and more evil than ever before: the weekday ban not only includes TV but all gaming systems of any size, type or style. Same reasons. Same expectations. Hopefully the same results—so far, so good.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s not always easy. My two boys are very good at reasoning and, in some cases, argument and debate. Future lawyers, perhaps. However, I prefer a more scientific approach to the laws of rule bending. When the well-read ‘A’ student asks for slight change, the experiment begins. When the quiz, test and project grades start to drop, or an inch becomes a mile, the experiment ends and the theory is successfully proven.

And it’s not always perfect. The real work begins on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons when both boys have to be pried away from sets and systems for a seat at the dining room table or an extended break outside for sunshine, fresh air and, oh yeah, actual physical, sweat-inducing exercise.

I will never win a Mother of the Year contest either.  

All kidding and “mean, strict mommy” stuff aside…

There are plenty of studies and reports available that provide serious statistics for why time spent in front of the television, gaming devices and other electronic toys should be limited. As well, there are plenty of resources—including our family oriented blog posts chock full of great ideas and first-hand experiences—that suggest better ways for young minds and bodies to spend their free time.

May I also suggest reading this linked post from the Becoming Minimalist blog.  Eye-opening statistics! You’ve got the resources, now it’s time to create the plan. Here are a few ideas:

Set rules and expectations early. If you have preschool aged children, then now is the time to set the rules. As the years progress, they won’t know any differently. Setting a new rule with older children will be more challenging—be strong.

Define your rule and any exceptions. For us, it’s basic: No television or gaming systems Mondays – Thursdays during the school year but they’re allowed Friday after school through Sunday evening.

Be consistent. There are always exceptions and small battles to be fought, but the boys know where I stand and what the absolute limit is.

Make it your lifestyle. It’s the same concept as dieting. To completely deny chocolate cake is to want chocolate cake. So, limit the amount, fill the time with other meaningful activities, remain steadfast, praise the effort, and celebrate the results! Stick with it week after month after year…you’ll be glad you did.

Thank you Mom and Dad! I hated the rule then, but I appreciate its value now. You were right! (Yup, that just happened.…) 

Did you grow up with a limit on television and video games? As a parent, what rules or expectations do you have during the school year? How has it worked for your family? Join the conversation and share your thoughts and ideas on this subject.

6 thoughts on “Setting Limits on TV and Video Games (or How NOT to Win Mother-of-the Year)

  1. Kudos to you, Jen, for establishing (and sticking to) high expectations for your boys! We have a similar set of rules, where I’m more apt to give permission for screen time over the weekends. On weeknights, my kids may play games only after their homework is done and chores around the house are completed. 20 minutes of screen time is our usual weeknight amount and we set a timer. But some nights, my kids are so busy with sports and practices that they don’t even have time to think about games (a much healthier option)!

  2. Currently our rule is one hour of total screen time on school nights (including video game, non-school related computer, and TV) AFTER homework and chores are done. Two hours of screen time on weekends (Fri & Sat/non-school nights). Of course with sports schedules he can’t always get his “full hour” that he feels entitled to and my response is “sorry”. So far so good because until recently I had been floundering and frustrated enforcing limits. He would at times put himself into a self imposed “video game coma” which I can’t stand and I know is not healthy! I also have one flex day where if he wants he can save up that hour for another time, like the weekend, meaning he can skip a night and save it, but only one night. He tried to plead for more but I said no. This is helping him to make his own choices within limits. We have a few exceptions, like a family movie that we all watch or something else special that is considered a “treat”, that is a bonus and doesn’t count to his screen time limit. Of course these screen time privileges can be taken away when the needs arises. It does arise from time to time… lol!

  3. Screen time is allowed at our house only on weekends or special days….after homework, chores, etc. have been completed. We are a little more relaxed with TV, but again, homework has to be completed and they have to have played outside first – weather permitting. I commend you for sticking to your rules and promoting a screen limited environment!

  4. Pingback: “Lose the ‘Boob Tube:’ Alternative Activities to Engage Your Children” | Off the Merry-Go-Round

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