Kids and TV go hand in hand – whether we like it or not! We live in a digital world and television is just one part of all of our digital surroundings. Have you ever tried to wean your kids from TV? (including computers, ipads, video games, etc?) Often times parents give it a go, struggle, fight, argue, stress and struggle some more – then become so frustrated and decide that it is simply not worth the effort. When in fact, the payoff in the long run may be just what your family needs.
When families decide their kids have simply had too much television, it is time to make some changes. The key is to make the change fun. When kids have new activities to replace the old ones, they really bounce right into the routine. Ironically, kids often adjust to change quicker than their parents. So, keep at it, parents! And maybe a few of the following ideas will help…
1. Take inventory.
Start at the beginning… do you even know how much time you, as a family, spend on the TV, computer, ipads, or video games? I challenge you to find out! You may be surprised (for the good or the bad)! Take a week and silently keep track of how much time each person spends on any digital device in your home and then have a family meeting to talk about it. Maybe have everyone guess how much time each of them spend on the TV, online or on video games, and see how close they get! Then talk about how much time you’re spending on the TV as a family and how to change it.
2. Give them a heads-up.
If you’ve decided you’re spending too much time on the TV as a family, talk about it and let your kids know that there are changes on the horizon – that the TV is going to be a little something extra and not part of the daily routine. Be prepared to have extra craft projects, board games, books, and outdoor activities planned (which we’ll talk more about a bit later in this post). When kids (of all ages) are busy, there is not time to sit in front of the TV.
3. Take it slow…
Be kind to your kids and yourself and do it gradually. Cold turkey can be very hard on everyone! Remember, for this to stick, it has to become a lifestyle, not just a “crash diet” that you’ll all become frustrated with and soon give up. Decide how much to cut back and start there. Depending on how much time your kids spend “digitally”, cut back from there. Do you want to cut down to an hour/day, a few hours/week, an hour/week? And, how about weekends? Will it be very difficult on you and/or your spouse to cut down then, too? What is doable for everyone to do? Remember, mom and dad have to be on board, too!
4. Unplug in key areas.
This one may be difficult for some of you. Do you or your children have TV’s, computers, video games, etc, in your bedrooms? This can be a very difficult habit to overcome if it’s constantly in sight, not to mention, it can disrupt sleep, lead to overeating and more sedentary habits, etc. Put computers, TV’s, or other digital devices (yours included) in the TV room, living room or other central locations for easier monitoring. But keep it outta the kitchen! A family sit down dinner and talking time every day is very valuable. Don’t let the TV take over that one, too! Not sure you agree? Look here for what some of the family dinner time benefits are, and check out some great “dinner tips” you may want to try. And, if you have a TV in your car, practice keeping it off and having other activities available for the kiddos in the car, as well. Save the TV for those “Ok, we’ve totally HAD it!” long road trips. Man, those darn TV’s can be just about anywhere these days, can’t they? I liked this woman’s opinion on FitBottomedGirls.com on what unplugging did for her.
5. Schedule it.
Once you’ve decided how much time you’ll be allowing for TV/screen time, schedule it. Involve the kids. Let them help make these crucial decisions. Then honor it. Let them have their uninterrupted TV time that everyone has agreed upon. If they’re a part of making the decisions, they’ll be more likely to stick to it.
6. Mind your manners.
How are YOU doing with your TV/screen time? Are you surfing the net or channels mindlessly? Don’t expect the kids to limit TV/computer time if you’re not. 😉 “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 (WebMD). Let’s all work on this together!
7. Encourage alternatives!
Do your homework… start thinking of better alternatives than the TV or computers… Some ideas could be: reading, puzzles, board games, card games, toys such as dominoes, play dough, legos, dolls/barbies, etc. Look online for more ideas (during your allotted “screen time” of course! 😉 ). And don’t forget to take a look at your “repertoire” of toys for outdoor activities… Do you have bikes, scooters, skates/rollerblades, pogo sticks, hula hoops, jump ropes, kickballs, sidewalk chalk, croquet/badminton sets, frisbees, skateboards, bubbles, fun sprinklers to run through, etc? And, how about for the winter or colder months? How is your stash of umbrellas, rain boots, rain coats, snow pants/coats, boots, hats, gloves, snow sleds, snowball/snowman making helps, or other ideas? I can’t tell you how many fun pictures I have of my kids playing in the gutter in a rainstorm or spending hours perfecting their snow forts. (And notice… no rain gear needed for warm days! 😉 )
Start acquiring things you need slowly – don’t go into debt thinking you need to get everything now. Try the dollar store, thrift stores or yard sales, too! You can usually find something new to try as a family. It’ll take some effort to think of fun things to do outside and maybe a little encouraging from you to get them started, but with just a little help, the kids will start to see how much fun they can have outside! And look here for some summer and other seasonal activity ideas to do with your kids or here for more fun ideas when limiting your family screen time from DoubleTheBatch.com. And, if you have young children, check out some of our favorite games for them!
8. Get out those good ‘ole “classic” games!
Remember the games YOU used to play as a child before we were completely surrounded by video games, computers, Ipads, phones, etc? Games are really wonderful for interacting with one another, learning strategies for each of the games, finding out that we don’t always win and that it’s ok – and how to handle that, and just great all-around fun for all ages! Here are some great ones we enjoy for the younger kids: Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Sorry!, Don’t Spill the Beans, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Memory, Hi Ho Cherry-O, Don’t Break the Ice, or Elefun. And for those older kiddos: Monopoly, Scrabble (versions for younger or older kids), Clue, Life, Yahtzee, Boggle (and Boggle Jr.), Pit, or Chess. Or here are some great ones for “mixing the ages”: Uno, Connect 4, Old Maid, Operation, Phase 10, Trouble, Twister, Go Fish, Checkers, Battleship, Apples to Apples (Jr or regular), or Dominoes (for matching up the dots or just setting up on their ends, side by side, to knock down!).
And, don’t forget those good ‘ole dice games! Here are some dice games for younger kids from TheMeasuredMom.com and some for a variety of ages from ActivityVillage.co.uk. Many are great for two or more players, and some are for those who like some “play alone time”. Or how about a simple deck of face cards? Here are some family friendly games from HowStuffWorks.com and easy card games for kids from NetMums.com that you can play with just a simple deck of cards. Cards and dice are a great way to help kids and grandparents come together, too. Many older folks love these types of games and would really enjoy a game with the young ones. They can teach the little ones, and you can teach the kids some games to teach Grandma or Grandpa! Try a handful of any of the above games and see what your family enjoys most!
I also found some helpful advice from the following families in writing up reviews of many of these games. They also gave some great new suggestions of games I haven’t tried that you may want to try, and some explained a little about the different games so you know how they’re played to get an idea if it’s one you’ll want to try. Check out NotConsumed.com, ICanTeachMyChild.com and LivingWellSpendingLess.com. I love their “family-oriented” insights and thoughts… many I hadn’t even thought of!
9. Teach “do alone” activities.
You know as a parent, you may be bombarded in the beginning with the kids getting bored. Brainstorm ways to teach activities that (once the kids get the hang of it) they can do alone. Teach games like solitaire, crossword puzzles, Suduko, jigsaw puzzles, or help them start a new hobby (like playing a guitar, kazoo or harmonica, drawing (for younger or older kids), yo-yo tricks, knitting, photography, cooking, playing marbles or jacks, gardening, model-building (Lego models are a great way to start, or try other Lego model building ideas if you already have a bunch of Legos), coin or stamp collecting, building with wooden blocks, and more!). And, don’t forget that it’s ok for them to not want to do anything. Even just sitting down and listening to music all by themselves may be soothing and just what they need. Be open-minded and ask them for ideas of what to do. Start getting creative together!
10. “Jam out” with your activity!
We love music at our house! When we turn TV’s and computers off to get chores done, we pull up our music that we’ve downloaded and click on someone’s playlist for a little extra motivation with our chores. Try it! (Make sure to give everyone a chance to play their own playlist) Go through the music you have on your computer (or download some, or… you know all those music CD’s you have? Get them ON your computer), and start a few different playlists (maybe one for Mom, one for Dad, a “kids’ bop” playlist, one for each child, a mellow music list, etc…), then listen to them while doing puzzles, games, crafts, activities, etc. I even let the kids skip the songs they don’t like and go to the next one. It’s a fun change of mood to the background noise of the TV always being on.
11. Get crafty!
Try some fun, new crafts with your kids. There are even some great ideas of crafts they can do pretty much on their own (depending on their age). Take a look online for more ideas. Here are some of our faves:
- Martha Stewart ideas (Some they can do on their own, some with help).
- Toddler paper plate crafts from HowWeLearn.com.
- Fun with popsicle sticks from PowerfulMothering.com.
- Pipe cleaner finger puppets from OneLittleProject.com. (Will need some supervision to make… for ALL ages to play with!)
- Spray paint shirts from WillowDay.com. (Will need some supervision)
- A variety of crafts for different ages from KidsActivitiesBlog.com.
- Personalized I-phone chargers from ShakenTogetherLife.com.
- Mustache bookmarks from LoveThisPic.com.
- Usable crafts the teens might enjoy from BuzzFeed.com.
- Fun crafts for boys (that girls will like too!) from ComeTogetherKids.com.
- Too cute milk jug (recycled) crafts! from DaniellesPlace.com.
12. Go back to the basics.
Sometimes the most simple “toys” are not really toys at all – yet they are the favorites! Some we’ve used in our house are: pots, pans, serving spoons and spatulas for “drums”; mixing bowls, cups, strainers, measuring cups and spoons in the tub (these are great fun at Grandma’s house, too, when Grandma has not “stocked up” yet on other toys 😉 but make sure you wash them thoroughly!); cardboard boxes for sitting in, riding in or cutting up to make into garages, cars, planes, trains, mazes, etc; or tin cans made into games or toys – like stilts, telephones, or magnetic toys. Get creative and think “outside the box”! 😉
13. Be WITH your kids.
You know what everyone says… Time flies. So, while they are actually listening to you, or telling you about their day, complaining about Sarah ignoring them today, or interrupting siblings to tell you THEIR version of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star… listen to them! You don’t always have to have activities ready for them to choose from. Many times, all they want is YOU. I’ve even found this with my teens. If I am not available right when they come home from school, looking right AT them when they’re talking to me (not glancing back and forth from the computer to them 😉 ), and listening… I miss that valuable few minutes to hear what they want to say. And, I may not get it back. If you’re not ready when they are, you may miss that chance to talk. This can also be done while you’re doing dishes, easy tasks, or chores that require little attention. Just make sure you focus on them. Here are some other great ways from AbundantMama.com to just BE with your kids.
14. Try books on tape, CD or downloaded.
When that afternoon lull comes around and you find yourself tempted to turn on the tube, try a book on tape or CD that is exciting, interesting or relaxing – whatever your child needs at that time. And, even better, for the younger children, if you have a picture book to go along with it, they’ll love following along. The library is a great place to find all kinds of options of books with the corresponding audio version. Many libraries even offer the option to download the audio version for a few weeks. This also works great for teens who may be having trouble getting any required reading assignments in for school or who struggle with reading. It really helps them understand the storyline and enjoy it more. My son just told me he found a reading of an audio book on YouTube for The Scarlet Letter. You know how those assigned readings can be? Somewhat difficult sometimes… Now, why hadn’t I thought of searching online for that?! DUH, me! 😛 See a little more about YouTube down on #22…
15. Be patient.
It will take some time for the kids to entertain themselves and they’ll need encouraging from you. Try to remember what you did as a child that you loved. Help them to try new things and give them time to get the hang of new activities. And, when they’re learning something new and say, “Hey, Mom/Dad, watch this!”… WATCH them! They’re learning new things and your excitement will only encourage them. (This goes for teens too. Notice (quietly) how much they say it. You might be surprised 😉 .) They might not instantly spend hours setting up dominoes in different designs and holler with glee when they tip one over and watch them all fall down in a cool design, work endlessly on their toothpick mansions, come up with a new 6-strand braid they’ve finally mastered for their hair, see how tall they can build their wood block tower, or perfect their checkers winning strategies… But, with practice they’ll start to find activities they like – and could maybe one day spend hours perfecting it!
16. See new places.
Have you been to the library, the beach, museum, ice-blocking or picnicking at your local park, hiking trails, the locals’ favorite snow-sledding hill, water parks, old historical sites, homes or lighthouses in your area, the zoo or aquarium, or other local fun places together recently? Obviously, this can’t happen every day, but make it a point to try new things together to help substitute for your newly limited TV time. Do you have teens that need practice driving? Pack the family up in the car, let the teens practice driving, and end up somewhere you’ve not gone before, then get out and enjoy it together! Just about every city around has some type of historical significance or story behind it. Research it a little and go see something cool! Consider trying your local areas of interest as a family as if you were tourists! Here are some great ideas how to get started or ideas to consider by DailyWorth.com (I loved their “truly frugal” tips), ApartmentTherapy.com (I really dig idea #3!) and WikiHow.com.
17. Try new things.
Do you have older children that might like learning how to do something challenging, like how to sew a dress, restore an old car, build a tree house, rebuild a bicycle, or some other big project? Research and try it! Visit the library, use their allotted online time to research, ask neighbors and friends who may have some expertise in that area, and be encouraging to your child. Consider asking older retired neighbors for help. They’ll love that you thought of them! Praise your child for trying new things even if it doesn’t turn out quite like they hoped. Seeing that they can do something new and hard will help them continue to try hard things in the future and feel good about themselves even if it turns out a little differently than they expected. They’ll learn to love learning outside the classroom, which will only help them in life!
18. Revisit often.
Once you’ve decided what you’re going to do as a family, have family meetings occasionally to find out kids’/parents’ frustrations and how to work on it together. You know that SAYING you’ll do something new, but actually DOING it can be two totally different things. Review everyone’s struggles or things they like about their new activities they’re enjoying. Just talking about new fun activities they’re trying can help others when they feel bored or are frustrated with less TV time.
I loved this website about how one mom controlled the use of electronics in their home by allowing 1 one-hour “electronics-use” ticket per day per child. You can adjust the time on the “tickets” according to your family needs or maybe offer different tickets for different things: TV, movies, video games, etc. Decide what your family needs and try it. I’d recommend that chores, reading, school work, etc, get done before the tickets are even available. And, when they’ve used their ticket (or tickets) for the day, they’re done! Stick to it! Be creative and adjust to the needs of your family 🙂 . (And you can print the tickets off for free!) Thanks, SportsMomSurvivalGuide.com!
20. Be consistent.
You KNOW this will be difficult at times. Be patient. Stand your ground! You ALL can do this! It’s worth it! Remember that you are in control. Be calm and remind the kids when they struggle why you started doing this in the first place. In then end, your family will all be rewarded.
21. Choose wisely.
When you DO have TV time, choose good quality shows! Musicals and shows with good family values, movies that teach valuable lessons, or those that have uplifting messages are great choices. Many animated shows offer that, and here are some non-animated ones that we enjoy (and continue to enjoy!):
- Musicals like: Annie, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Footloose (the older or newer version), The Sound of Music, High School Musical, Les Miserables, (the older or newer version -for older kids), Grease, The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Enchanted, Mary Poppins, or Pete’s Dragon
- Movies for younger kids: Because of Winn-Dixie, Free Willy, Hook, The Princess Bride, Homeward Bound, Nanny McPhee, The Karate Kid (the older or newer version)
- Movies for older kids: Dead Poets Society, Flicka, Pay it Forward, The Pursuit of Happyness, Soul Surfer, Liar Liar, or Mrs. Doubtfire
- Sports shows (some for all ages, some for the older kids): 42, The Blind Side, The Sandlot, Facing the Giants, Bend it Like Beckham, The Rookie, Miracle, Field of Dreams, or Remember the Titans
- Those oldies but goodies: Old Yeller, The Miracle Worker, Where the Red Fern Grows, Miracle on 34th Street (the older or newer version), or The Parent Trap (the older or newer version)
(And many of these can be found at the library!)
You may want to consider some of these ideas for a fun family movie night together, also. With a good, quality movie or musical that everyone loves, your kids will get their “TV fix” and be ready to move back to the other new activities that you have introduced to them.
22. Consider occasional “online family nights”.
While limiting TV and screen time is the goal, the reality is… TV is everywhere. Consider being a part of it occasionally as a family. Especially if you have teens… be prepared for their interest in YouTube or other “video shorts” that their friends will be showing them. Maybe have an online family fun night that’s focused on everyone sharing their new silly, crazy, uplifting, inspirational, or funny videos that they’ve seen online. Explain the expectations of the types of videos you want shown (especially if you have younger children) and see what the kids come up with! The teens will really appreciate your interest in things they’re seeing. There really are some great videos online. We have occasional “extended family nights” with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles and this is a fun way to “blend the ages” of everyone there. It has become a fave!
- We enjoy watching surprising or inspirational moments caught on video like this: (don’t miss the cute little girl’s comment about 1 minute from the end.)
- Short inspirational videos such as this one from Mormon Messages,
- Videos of amazing feats and talents, like this one:
- And, short clips of hilarious happenings that CONTINUE to make us laugh (& maybe cry a bit) like the clip below…
23. Teach how to live safely in our “digital world”.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a digital world. Our children WILL eventually come in contact or see things online or on TV that are not good. Sit down with them and talk about:
- Some things they might see or hear that might not be appropriate for your family values… whether that be poor language, nudity, crude jokes, horror scenes, etc… (Yes, you may need to be more blunt than you’re comfortable being. But, if you don’t, they WILL eventually hear it from their friends or others – and they might hear that some questionable things they’re watching ARE ok! Do you want that?) Every child will be different in how much information to give them. One way I know how far to go with sharing sensitive information is if they keep asking questions, I keep answering. Once their curiosity is satisfied, I know I’m done. And, if they get upset or scared at what we’re discussing, we put it off until they’re ready to talk more about it. Wouldn’t you rather they hear sensitive information from you?
- Why some things they see are not appropriate.
- That it’s ok and to not feel badly about seeing something inappropriate by accident, but to DO something about it right away!
- Do something and do it NOW! Practice the courage to change the channel, ask others to change the channel (or movie), or walk away, if necessary. Discuss and/or role play how they could do this with friends or others.
- Warn them that many of their friends (or even older family members) might not agree with whether or not something is inappropriate to watch, but encourage them to be true to themselves and do what feels right!
- Here are some other sites that have helpful information on protecting your kids while they’re online: Inappropriate Material – When and How to Talk to Your Kids, 6 Ways to Protect Your Kids on YouTube, How to Protect Young Kids from Inappropriate Internet, and I loved this one on how to calmly discuss concerns with your child: What if My Young Child Has Seen an Inappropriate Website? And, don’t forget, indecency can be everywhere, which is why I like this post on How to Respond When You’re Child is Exposed to Pornography at School.
When it comes to the daily TV grind, there are several cartoons and so-called “family hour” shows that, if you sit down and watch them, you’ll soon realize they do NOT promote family values. By providing alternate activities, families can take back their kids and begin to rebuild the values that their family cherishes. Life is full of adventure and by being selective as to what your kids are watching on TV or the time they spend on digital devices, they can learn to also embrace the goodness in other activities that our world has to offer. Be patient, do not give up and remind yourself the importance of your family values. You, as a parent, owe it to your kids to manage your screen time. You can do it!
We’d love to hear about your experiences in weaning your kids from TV. Leave us a comment with your experience. Your comments may help a parent searching for what will work for their family.(Some blog images from Deviantart,com, Flickr.com and Wikipedia.com)