How can I encourage my son to spend less time in front of the television or on the computer?
Children and teens have access to more kinds of electronic media than ever before. You can help your children develop healthy habits by monitoring screen time and teaching them to use media safely and wisely.
Start when your children are young. Otherwise, it will get harder to enforce limits and influence their choices as they get older.
- Consider all electronic media when setting time limits for your family. Television, movies, the Internet (including social media), video games and gaming devices (whether handheld, or played through a computer or television) all add to your child’s total screen time.
- Children learn many of their values and ideas from their parents. Be aware of your own media habits and change them if necessary.
- The Canadian Paediatric Society discourages screen-based activities for children under 2. Limit television watching to less than 1 to 2 hours per day for older children. Avoid making television part of your regular daily routine.
- Keep television, computers and gaming equipment out of your child’s bedroom. Keep them in common areas, where you can watch your children while they use them. Turn off the television or computer when you aren’t using it.
- Balance screen time with sports, hobbies, creative and outdoor play, both on their own and together as a family.
- Late-night chatting online, surfing and texting with friends shouldn’t cut into important sleep time.
- Ask your child or teen to give you their cellphone at a certain time at the end of the day so they aren’t interrupted with phone calls or text messages during family time. Talk about the importance of turning off cellphones and the value of being disconnected at night.
- Find out about online protection for your family. Programs that provide parental controls can block websites, enforce time limits, and monitor the websites your child visits and their online conversations.
- Ask your child or teen where else he uses computers. Talk to teachers and caregivers about where and when your children are using electronic media.
Help your child develop healthy media habits:
- Get involved in your child’s media use — watch, play and listen with your child. Talk to him about it, find out what he enjoys and why. Share your own beliefs and values. Preview television shows, music and video games to see if they are okay.
- Encourage your child to try different media experiences. Help them make good choices.
- Learn about the Canadian and American ratings systems for television, music, movies and video games. They can help you choose appropriate media with your child.
- Talk to your child about stereotypes and violent images in the media. Educate him about the strategies that advertisers use to sell products to children.
- Limit the violent content your child is exposed to. Notice whether there are any changes in how he behaves after watching scary or violent shows, or playing video games.
- Speak out. If media content strikes you as inappropriate or offensive, tell the media organization.
Dr. Shirley Blaichman is a general paediatrician in the Montreal area and a member of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s Public Education Committee.
For more information on your child’s growth and development, get answers from Canada’s paediatric experts www.caringforkids.cps.ca or www.soinsdenosenfants.cps.ca. You can also find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/caringforkids.cps.ca and on Twitter @CaringforKids or @soinsenfants.