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Less Screen Time for Kids

Tips to get kids off the TV, computers, and video games.

Cutting Kids' TV, Computer, and Video Game Time continued...

Create a screen time schedule. Once you've established a TV time limit, sit down with your child every week and let him figure out how he plans to use it. Just make sure that screen time doesn't occur during meals or within an hour of bedtime. Otherwise, honor the agreement. For example, let your child watch TV freely, without interruptions from you.

"If kids have a say in the schedule, they'll be more likely to follow it," says Paul Ballas, DO, a child psychiatrist and medical director of the Green Tree School Clinic in Philadelphia.

Cover the TV when it's not in use. Put a blanket over the unit or store it in a cabinet with the doors closed when no one is watching it. "I've used this technique with my patients, and it's basically 'out of sight, out of mind,'" Ballas tells WebMD. "If it's not obviously out in front of them, they'll be less likely to be drawn to it."

Talk to older kids about TV advertising. You might approach this by helping them see how advertisers often work hard to persuade them to make poor food choices. Then talk about healthier choices such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This can lead to a great discussion about healthy food and activity.

Mind your own screen time. If you spend a chunk of your day surfing the net or watching TV, you can't expect to pry your kids loose from their screens. Keep track of your screen time. Avoid channel surfing, and only watch TV shows that you really watch. "We tell people to pick a show, turn it on, then turn it off," says Donald Shifrin, MD, clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle and a member of the committee on communications for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Don't just keep looking for shows."

Encourage other activities. Reading, doing puzzles or board games, playing outside, and spending time with friends or family are a few of the healthy activities your kids can engage in instead of watching TV, playing video games, or being on the computer.

Stand your ground. Be consistent. Chances are, cutting back on your child's screen time will cause some conflicts. "You need to remember that you are in control," Shifrin says. "Think of yourself as the electronics posse." But also stay calm and remind your child why these limits are important. In the end, you and your child will reap the rewards. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics showed that kids whose parents set limits on their kids' TV and other screen time were more likely to be active than children whose parents gave their kids free rein.

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Reviewed on January 12, 2012