In today’s high tech and busy world, it’s a challenge to limit children’s total media time.There is constant exposure to TV, computers, and video games. It was a challenge to get my 7-year-old away from the screen without him beginning to hate me. I encouraged more interactive activities such as creative play, reading together, athletics, and various hobbies.30

We shouldn’t forget, though, that TV and computers in moderation can be a good thing, not only for entertainment, but media can also be used as an excellent educator. Preschoolers can learn alphabets and grade-schoolers can be exposed to science and nature shows.

The danger is too much media exposure and the wrong usage, which discourages other, more active pursuits. Problems range from lower grades in school, developing violent and aggressive behavior, and becoming overweight. Also, media exposes children to all kinds of advertisements—it was surprising one evening when my 7-year-old said, “Mama, I want to open a Facebook account.” Excuse me! Even I don’t have time for one, and at age 7, where does this come from?

That said, let’s start with some guidelines to limit media exposure:

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that “kids under 2 years old not watch any TV, and that those older than 2 watch no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality programming.” Most programs should be informational, educational, and nonviolent, and the programs should be monitored.

AAP also recommends keeping “TV sets, VCRs, video games, and computers out of children’s bedrooms.” This might help control the dramatically rising rates of media usage by children and teens.

A study by the Center for Vision Research at the University of Sydney, Australia, found that “6-year-olds who spent the most time watching television, using a computer or playing video games had narrower arteries in the back of their eyes—a marker of future cardiovascular risk.”

Over a year ago, results of a comprehensive poll by Kaiser Family Foundation showed that parental involvement could improve how media affects kids’ lives. We should have discussions with our kids so that we reach agreement on the matter in advance. The value of honoring the family is very strongly ingrained in South Asian children. We are teaching our kids based on cultural practices. Sitting down with the child and discussing the specific details about this matter makes it easier for the child to understand. As parents, we still expect to preserve family values in a media-driven society. Some parents seem to be under the impression that children can cope with the same things as adults, but the answer is that they can’t.

I would like to share what is beginning to work for my son and me.

Set time limits on media usage. A new study has found that children whose parents set consistent rules about TV use were less likely to exceed recommended time limits. For us, TV/computer stay off during school days.

Earning media time. On weekends and holidays, there is a set media time limit and he may earn more media time by good behavior and chores.

Provide alternatives to media. Weekday activities include karate, swimming, and guitar lessons. Weekend activities include ice skating, baseball, and skateboarding.

Make use of family time. It is always suggested that parents participate in various activities with their children, which will help the children to cultivate their interests. At home, my son is teaching me guitar and board games such as chess and Operation. Weekend family game nights are great fun. I am also trying to get him involved in planning and preparing meals. Gardening with dad has proved to be a successful effort.

Be a good role model. Role modeling is often the most effective parenting tool, as children regularly take on the habits of their parents. In our house, TV/computer are off for until my son is asleep—and if I’m still awake!

My favorite of all these is giving my child a multitude of alternative activities that will play an important role in helping him develop a healthy body and mind, including cognitive skills, social skills, and problem-solving skills. A healthy routine is an active one, and it gives me a good feeling to know that if I am able to replace one hour a day of screen time with physical activity, it will reduce the negative effects that come with a sedentary lifestyle.

I’m a firm believer that we must interrupt our children’s regularly scheduled programming to give them a healthier start on life.

Meenu Arora has over 10 years of experience teaching and working with kids. She writes on topics on kids and health. She is a physician of homeopathy and currently works in a quality management position.

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