Media Gluttony vs. Play: Take back your family

Falling in Love with your Family by Alison

In a Nutshell: American kids spend more time consuming media than doing anything else!  Here are some suggestions to take back your family.

Renowned child psychologist Jean Piaget recognized the intellectual value of a child’s exploration of his world.  He famously said, “Play is a child’s work.”  Born in 1896, I think he’d have a bit of culture shock if he were to wander through American homes today.  He would recognize that play isn’t what many children are engaged in. Instead, he may be forced to change his statement to, “Consuming media is a child’s work.”  A recent study found that kids ages 8 – 18 spend 7 hours, 38 minutes a day consuming media (including four and a half hours daily in front of the TV).  That’s  about seven and a half hours daily, seven days a week, adding up to a 53-hour work week.  That would make consuming media the official full-time job for many kids.

So, where are your kids now?  How many are glued to TV’s, computers, or hand-held devices?  Now, I’m not a media-hater.  I think technology has given parents some amazing tools to help raise their kids well.  But, as a whole, our generation of parents has dropped the ball.  Our kids spends spend more time with their screens than they do with their parents, at school, with friends, reading, playing, or anything else.  If they turn out a little more like Bart Simpson, and a little less like us, we have only ourselves to blame.  Summer is an especially hard time to reduce media consumption, but our kids deserve a real childhood with real memories, not just time spent in a virtual world.  Every family is different, but here are some different ideas that have worked for others that may help you reduce media gluttony in your home:

1) Postpone.   Some families have a rule that no screens are turned on until a certain time, after lunch for example.  That way, you can fill the morning with sports, practicing the piano, chores, reading, outings, outside play, academics or whatever is important to your family.

2) Plan.  It may work in your family to plan together ahead of time.  You could highlight the TV insert in the newspaper, or look through what you have recorded and make proactive decisions about what media you purposefully will let into your home.  Planning helps teach kids the importance of selecting quality media and not always using screens as a backup plan for boredom.

3) Limit.  When we have limited the daily minutes or hours a child has for screens, I’ve often heard kids turn off the TV and say, “This show isn’t worth it.”  They become careful instead of passive in their consumption.  You need to have a timer by the screens, or be very on top of it to make this one work.

4) Tokens.  We’ve used this system on and off when media seemed to be taking over our kids.  It takes some planning, but works great.  I see it more as a short-term project than a way of life, but it may be helpful to your family.  Basically, tokens are given out at the start of a week that are good for 30 minutes of screens.  Each token not used at the end of the week can be redeemed for money and that is the child’s allowance.  A detailed description of the plan can be found here, in an online parenting resource by the late Glenn Latham, one of my favorite parenting writers.

5) Count.  For younger kids, I’ve used a variation of the token system with seashells (or any small object).  Their daily or weekly allotment of shells is put in a small jar above the screen you are trying to regulate along with an empty jar.  For each 30 minutes of screen time, one shell is put in the empty jar, until the shells are gone.  Then, when they ask to watch TV, you can just say, “Do you have any shells left?”  and let the system be the bad guy when they have used up their time.  I’ve also done this with coins, and the child gets to keep any coins not “spent” on media.

6) Reduce Access.  Be a family and talk instead of watching TV during meals.  Think carefully about putting media, including TV and computers in kids rooms.  Carefully weigh the risks before letting kids have phones with internet that allows them to access anything they want in the solitude of their rooms.  Having limited access to screens and keeping those screens in the main rooms of your house helps control content and reduces isolation.  I don’t think families can survive when each person spends most of their time apart from each other, playing their own game or watching their own show, in their own little world.

7) Turn it off.  For a day, a week, or a longer way of life, consider shutting off the cable, disconnecting the internet, or putting the DVR on a shelf.  We had a great time experimenting a few weeks ago.  You can read about it here.

8) Learn.  While you are folding clothes or clipping coupons, listen to this great podcast about recent research on media and children.  Do some internet searches about the effects of media on kids so you can make informed choices about what you allow to influence your child.

9) Be more fun than a screen.  Most kids will gladly leave media to spend time with you or have an adventure.  Being a fun, creative parent and encouraging kids to play is the best way to take back your kids from the media monster.

However you do it, remember that is it a parent’s job to make sure their children have a healthy dose of childhood, free from media gluttony.

Try it Today: Time how much media is being consumed in your house for a couple of days, including by you!  Based on your “research,” try one of the suggestions above to take back your family! 

Share your ideas about how you help your family make good media choices!


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