Keeping the Kids' Screen Time Under Control

My kids love television. They love the computer. This makes it a challenge at times to keep the amount of time they spend with each under control.

Of course, having them playing on the computer or watching shows isn’t bad within limits. It’s just keeping to the limits.


I’ve actually found that our TiVo helps to control how much television my children want to watch. Their shows are on whenever they want to see them, and so they aren’t so concerned with missing them. I’ve been surprised at how much less television they ask to watch since getting used to TiVo.

Our television is turned off every morning by a certain time. It doesn’t matter whether a little or a lot has been watched. It’s playtime.

If only a little was watched, then more time will be allowed later. This helps to keep things spread out a little if the kids are in the mood to watch a lot of television. Television watching is so passive that I prefer to discourage it gently.

But if they hardly watch any on a particular day it’s no big deal.


How my kids do love their computer time! I have a page set up so that they can pick from their favorite sites and not wander off onto sites I wouldn’t want them to visit.

With two computers side by side, most often they’re either playing one on each computer or either my husband or myself is on the other machine. No unsupervised computer time.

I’m more flexible about computer time if they’re playing more educational games. Just for fun games aren’t a problem as such, but there are more creative ways kids can be playing if that’s what they want to do.

Even educational games really aren’t as good as other kinds of learning in a lot of cases, but I’ve been amazed by what my 3 year old son has picked up. He’s starting to recognize letters that are in words just by sounding them out. His counting has rapidly improved.

Now if I could just get him to practice writing a bit more. He’s thinking about it, but of course that can’t be done on the computer, or at least not with our equipment.

No matter how educational the computer time, it too must be left alone regularly for other kinds of play. Kids need to be active physically as well as mentally.

Consider Total Screen Time

I allow more computer time in exchange for less TV time. Not the reverse, though, as the one has more potential benefit. TV time is mostly passive, and very little “educational” television has that much educational value in my opinion.

The total time spent should be appropriate to the age. I don’t want my 3 year old spending too much of his time in front of the screen; nor do I want my 6 year old to overdo it. But overdoing it can be defined in part by age and by what has been going on for the rest of their day.

School days, for example, I insist on outdoor play time for both kids even though that means my daughter will barely get any TV or computer time. Physical activity simply matters more. So does getting homework done. Playing games online or watching television is a bonus, not a vital part of a child’s day.

On the other hand, a 3 year old should have less screen time when all other factors are equal, such as on weekends. It’s always hard explaining why an older child gets more of something, so I won’t say I always accomplish this. And since there’s no such thing as a need for a child to have a certain amount of screen time, I don’t feel bad about which limit I impose.

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