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How much control do you take of your child’s screen / TV / Text time?


I watched the “Weight of the Nation” yesterday
View on YouTube here: Weight of the Nation

I heard concerned parents of overweight children complaining about the amount of time they spent online, and how having screen time stopped them doing exercise:

  • Facebooking with their friends, rather than spending real time with people.
  • Playing online games or ‘Playstation’ or Wii, rather than sports or playing outside
  • Watching TV (often with a TV in their own bedroom) in the evening until they felt like going to sleep.

According to research in this Daily Mail article British children now spend an average of one hour and 50 minutes online and two hours 40 minutes in front of the television every day.

That’s 4 hours in front of a screen each day.

And from the Telegraph “Teenagers spend an average of 31 hours a week online and nearly two hours a week looking at pornography, according to a study.”

Added to that, teenagers often stay awake at night receiving and sending texts, so they end up lacking sleep Texting teenagers who stay ‘on call’ all night pay the price in lost sleep The authors note “A National Sleep Foundation study released this month found that almost one in five teens ages 13-18 are awakened by a phone call, text message, or e-mail at least a few nights a week.”

I don’t know about you – but I find it alarming that children are actually allowed to spend this much time online, or watching TV and texting friends all night. I find it crazy that parents act as if they have no say in the matter. (Who’s in charge again?)

I’m a mother, I have teenagers, I have a say. We do – we all do – and we should for the sake of our children’s health and well-being.

What we do in our house:

We have 2 teens, a just turned 16 daughter and an almost 14 year old son.

No my teenagers are not quiet, introvert, compliant children like I was. They are outgoing, feisty, strong willed, loud, and not scared to speak their minds, or try to shout us down.

Still – we have rules, and we stick rigidly to them. They work.

TV: No TV during the week – that is NO TV Monday – Thursday night. When we first instituted this rule (after noting the research that the more kids watched TV the less likely they were to achieve in tertiary education academically) there was a fuss. But they got used to it. Their behavior improved markedly – I mean a lot – without American sitcoms, the smart mouthed disrespectful talk reduced hugely. Friday, Saturday and Sunday – NO TV before 5.00pm. None after dinner. No TV on Sunday until homework is finished.

Oh and we have just one TV, it’s in the lounge, the kids have to agree to watch the same thing without arguing, they have to learn to work it out and compromise. Hubby and I get to kick them off if we want, not that we do, we tend to just watch one hour a night, despite or maybe because of the fact hubby makes TV for a living.

Computer time: We have one fun computer for the children, it’s set up with KidsWatch. 45 minutes per day during the week, and 1 hour in the weekend. They have to fit their Facebooking, Tumblr and online games into that slot. Do they get extra? – sometimes, depends if homework is done and behaviour is good.

School holidays: They get TV and computer as though it was always a weekend, i.e an hour a day of computer and TV after 5 pm.

Homework: We have a homework computer, set up in my husband’s home office, they get to use that as needed, Facebook is blocked using KidsWatch. The sites they visit can be tracked.

Cellphones: Both kids have their own phone, the phones are not allowed in their bedrooms at night, the sound goes off and they stay in the kitchen. We have strict cellphone etiquette, no phones at the dinner table (for anyone – includes parents). No texting at extended family gatherings, parties or dinners out. Oh and they have to pay for their own texts.

Dinner time: We have dinner together, every night at the dinner table. We talk and laugh, sometimes the kids argue. It’s cool. Some of our childrens’ friends find it very unusual to have a sit down dinner. It is sad that it’s often not the norm. My children cook dinner about once every 2 weeks. They have to make it gluten free.

Children that eat dinner as a family have many academic, social and psychological advantages over those who don’t.


Activity: Fortunately our children like to be physically active, however I’m aware that physical activity often gets dropped by busy teens. We have made it a rule that our children play a sport all year round. My son loves tennis, he plays that all year, plus soccer in the winter. My daughter is soccer mad and trains 2 x  week all year round. Even if they were not crazy about sport – they would still have to do it.

Other activities – Games: due to the fact that they don’t have much screen time, they have been introduced to old fashioned games like chess, drafts, monopoly. My dyslexic computer crazy son has found that he is good at chess, and surprisingly scrabble, and at 13 in his first year in high school he joined the chess club, and is so far unbeaten. He goes to chess club once a week and plays games with other chess nuts.

Discipline: Use leverage. What do our kids love most? Computer and TV time. What gets taken away for bad behaviour? Yes – TV and fun computer time. With KidsWatch, it is easy to stop access. Okay if it’s minor they just get sent to their room, it’s not always TV or computer, but it’s great leverage if we need it.

Do our kids complain? Actually no, it’s just the way it is in our house.

Where do you stand? Do you control your kids online time?


 Science: Parenting styles, activity levels and screen time in children. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120621130724.htm?



  1. Thanks for posting – sharing around!

    I’m often surprised myself at how little control many parents feel they have over their kids’ screen time. It’s also a good reminder that little increments of screen time can add up – which is especially sad what with Spring headed into Summer in the Northern Hemisphere and people all over the place with Vitamin D deficiencies.

  2. Thank you so much for posting this! As a mum, I sometimes get so caught up in the health & nutrition side of caring for my kids that I lose track of the other stuff, like TV. My kids are young, 4 & 6, so it’s quite a bit easier to control their screen time. Not that they don’t WHINGE for it all the time!! But I still find myself getting soft, like this week when I said, “You’ve got a cold so you don’t have to go to rugby practice, of course you can stay home and watch a video instead”. When I stop and think about it, I realize that if I tell them we’re not watching anything today, they’re upset for 5 minutes or so and then they go play Lego together, or do some colouring-in. The only reason I don’t say “No” quite as much as I ought is that I don’t have great rules like yours. You have totally inspired me to put “Screen Rules” in place. I’m sure they will need tweaking as the kids get older, but that’s fine. I love the idea of using them for leverage.

    One question: What do you do in your family about videos/DVDs? Do you count them as TV? We often throw on BBC documentaries about penguins or sharks, etc — the kids love them. It still needs to be rationed, but perhaps a little differently to actual TV programming?

    • Yes, it s tricky when kids are home sick, I do sometimes let them watch TV. But don’t want to reward staying home.
      My oldest tells me all the time how other kids watch as much as they want and still do well at school. Trouble is with my kids we give a little leeway and then they whine for more. My son would be online all day if we let him. Right now he has no computer for 2 weeks as a consequence for something he did. (He picks his own punishment by the way – he thought 2 weeks without it was appropriate for the deed) He has been studying up on chess and reading interesting factual books.

      We sometimes watch educational stuff together, recently we watched Frozen Planet. That might happen for an hour in an evening. We always sit down and watch my husbands documentaries when they are on TV, that’s a family ritual. He makes the Nigel Latta Series. So we get first hand child rearing info form Nigel.

  3. My son gets to watch a maximum of 1 hour of television on week days, but most days we’re so busy it’s none at all. That might climb to 2 hours a day on weekends if we sit down and watch a movie. Video games are limited to two hours a week. Televisions and game systems are in common areas of the house, so it’s pretty easy to police.

  4. Perhaps when our kids get to their teenage years things will change, but so far we have had no need for any specific restrictions on any kind of screen time with our two daughters. As far as TV goes, they used to get bored too quickly when they were younger so we never needed to restrict it. Now they’re getting closer to teenage years there are specific programs they like to watch, but since we use a computer with TV tuner setup, rather than just a TV, we can barely stand to watch live TV and mostly watch pre-recorded programmes (skipping ads will reduce TV time significantly). Our “TV” has always been in a shared space so they rarely watch TV alone, it’s almost always a shared social experience with one or other of the rest of the family.

    As for computers, in theory they get unlimited time but in reality we’ll be monitoring how they use that time. For example, they have iPads on which they could be drawing, making videos, reading, watching TED talks (our eldest), interacting with overseas relatives as well as playing games. I’d say if all they did was play SIMS for hours we’d step in but in reality they tend to bore before that is needed.

    My opinion is that “screen/TV/text time” is a bit of a red herring, what is important is HOW time is used. As a topical example: Thanks in a large part to screen time Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is the 29th richest person on Earth. Another example: Some parents restrict TV but encourage their kids to learn a musical instrument, ignoring the fact that most musical instruments are far from ergonomically ideal and require hours of repetitive action that is often done alone, indoors. Schools encourage kids to read books, and yet being “bookish” used to be a derogatory term suggesting an indoorsy, pale, weak, somewhat self-indulgent character.

    Perhaps the other point is input v’s output. Sitting watching hours of The Voice/Australia’s Got Talent/Young Talent Time may be pointless unless your child also participates in some kind of performing activity. Watching hours of surfing videos may be pointless unless your child also spends hours in the surf. Sitting for hours in front of a computer screen may be pointless unless your child also becomes the next Mark Zuckerburg.

    Wow, I’ve almost written my own blog post on the subject! Clearly it’s a good topic to discuss.

    • I agrree – it does to some extent depend on what kids do online. My son will spend hours playing an online game, he reacts badly (behaviour wise) to too much of that. I also think it is unhealhty for kids to spend hours on facebook etc, some of the interactions and language etc that go on are downright unhealthy. Much better for kids to relate in a real life face to face way.
      Our children are so much more human when they spend less time online.
      Our children get all the time they need doing homework or research on the computer so I dont have a problem with that.

  5. Sounds reasonable to me–but I’m not that fond of TV, and hardly watched it as a kid. I don’t know how anyone can stand to keep it on all the time. When the US made the switch to digital TV transmission a few years ago, I didn’t bother to buy a new antenna: broadcast TV wasn’t worth $40 to me. (I do like Netflix, though, and most nights I’ll watch a TV show episode.)

    Facebook and constant texting are two other things I don’t get. The constant updates from “friends” (read: barely acquaintances) annoyed me. And even with my best friend, after 40 or 50 minutes on the phone ever week or two, we don’t have anything more to say to each other. What in the world do people constantly text each other about?

  6. Hi! Saw this via Robb Wolf’s retweet. I’m a newlywed and not a mom yet so I don’t know if my ‘plans’ matter since I haven’t actually done it. But I do plan on limiting my kid’s screen time VERY HEAVILY. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends NO tv before the age of 2, so hopefully I can abide by that for the most part. Television isn’t natural and certainly wasn’t part of our ancestors lifestyle so I hope my kids will watch very little. I plan to not have a tv in main living areas or bedrooms. Tv or movies will be an event, rather than a habit. I don’t plan on giving kids their own TVs, computers, or gaming equiptment until they are teenagers, at least. They will have to use the family devices.

    • I think being clear when the children are young on the rules you will impose makes a big difference. Then it is just a normal part of life.
      What makes rules hard is other parents.
      Parents who have no bedtime rules, no screen rules, let their children have devices in the bedroom; laptops attached to the internet, televisions, smartphones etc.
      When our children sleep over at friends and are exposed to a different set of rules they come home and whine about how unfair we make their lives.
      The list could go on – parents buying alchol for underage drinking, buying a lot of expensive devices and clothes when thier kids ask for it, giving them money for no work… There is a lot I could moan about.

      A friend many years ago when I asked him why his children were so amazing (socially and behaviourly) said that he always looked to the long term and asked himself “What is the best thing for my child in the long term?” Many of our decisions have come from looking at the long term – what kind of adults do we want our children to be? What can we do now to forward that?

      I hasn’t been any easy ride (our children are adopted – they spent their early most important brain forming years in a Russian orphanage). But we are beginning to see rewards. Our daughter has become a sought after babysitter, she plays with kids, is not afraid of difficult behaviour in her charges, cleans up the kitchen and has the children clean up their toys before bedtime, is polite and talks to adults easily.
      Mind you – I am also aware to take nothing for granted, I don’t think I can pat myself on the back until the kids are in their mid 20’s (maybe 40 for my more wayward son!)

  7. I have 5 and 8yr old daughters. We live in an apartment in the city. We limit screen time in our home. Our children play a sport/physical activity directly after school each day, and also a few mornings before school. I grew up in the country and rode 3kms on my bike to school each day, I drive my daughters the 3kms to their school each day 🙁

    We have noticed a very significant behavioural problem in our oldest child after screen time, whether it be ipad/computer/TV after it is turned off, after a longish session of 30+ minutes she becomes very teary, argumentative, loses her problem solving ability and basically acts ‘all hormonal’. It drives her father and me insane so we’ve worked out that it’s best to avoid screen time if we need to do something after it. Which is basically all of the time. We do ligihten up on the weekends, an hour or so on Friday evening, we had a DVD this evening before dinner (Saturday night after a superactive birthday party at a swimming centre this afternoon) and will probably watch an hour or so on Sunday evening.

    I find it super difficult that we have computer based homework activities, generally maths that are Flash based and can’t be done on the ipad. My oldest daughter does a little maths on my desktop computer and then goes to youtube or Barbie dot come or some other inane destination and whittles away her time there, this is because she is on the computer in my office, we don’t have space for one in the family area of our house.

    My oldest daughter behaves like screen time is crack cocaine. She doesn’t whinge/whine or talk about it, but once she’s on it it’s difficult to get her off and the she becomes all irrational, unco-operative and teary when she comes off it. Tricky!

    • We use the programme kidswatch on the shared computers. Each person has to log on – and each person can be filtered differently. On the homework computer, the children log in their own name and can access the internet but we blog all thier fun sites, so they can only do homework research or log in to online school work etc.

      Highly recommend you use it – takes one major stress out of our lives, plus we get sent a notification if there is any bad language or possible grooming talk etc from online chats. Good to monitor that stuff.

      Our kids have always walked to school. When it was further away – 2.5 km they caught the bus or cycled (age 11 – 12)
      The school is close now – 1.5 km so they can easily walk.

      Our son too became impossible after some types of screen time when younger – very hyper and impulsive and oppositional.

      It made such a difference when we restricted TV and certain types of computer games.

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