Does it seem as if your children spend most of their time in front of a television or computer screen? Do you have to deal with tantrums or pouting when you ask your kids to take a break to do chores, finish homework, or eat dinner? The average American child watches from three to five hours of television per day, which adds up to between 27 and 35 hours of television per week. That is the equivalent of your child sitting in front of a television screen from eight o'clock in the morning until seven o'clock in the evening the next day.

In addition to this, some children spend up to ten hours each day playing video and computer games. That's a lot of screen time.

Perhaps you have tried to limit your child's screen time but have been unsuccessful and are tired of making it an issue. Television, the computer and video games are no doubt here to stay; the following tips will help you to exercise some control over what, how much and when your children participate in media so that you can protect them from the potential harm that it can do.

1. Don't allow your children to watch whatever they want

Make sure you always know what they are watching and that it is appropriate for their age and level of maturity. Children need limits and look to you for guidance. They do not have the wisdom to filter out influences that may be harmful to them. They need to know that not every television show and video game meets your expectations, and that there are things that are off limits. You might consider allowing them to make choices from a few select alternatives. As you set these limits, be sure to communicate your reasons and values. This will help them make wise choices when you are not immediately available to direct them.

2. Don't let them watch TV or play games alone for significant periods of time

If you aren't around to monitor the shows children are watching, you will be unable to encourage programs which portray positive characters and themes. Watching television with your children gives you an opportunity to discuss the issues raised in various programs and explain confusing or distressing events.

If you can't always sit and watch with your children, make sure to walk through the room where they are watching from time to time to monitor what is on the TV. When it comes to playing video games, it is better for children to play with other children. They can share interests, cooperate and gain interpersonal skills by interacting with others.

3. Don't watch television during meal times

This is a good time for conversation and interaction among family members. As a parent, you have a captive audience and should use this opportunity to talk to your children about what is going on in their lives. Eat dinner together as a family as much as possible. Ask your children questions that will get them to open up, such as "What was the best/funniest/weirdest thing that happened to you today?" Create family traditions surrounding dinner time that will make your children look forward to it each day.

For example, in one family the father had a new joke to tell every night at dinner. Even though the kids groaned each time at the silliness of the "Dad joke," they looked forward to hearing a new one every night. Encourage eating slowly and talking a lot. If everyone is engaged with the television or in a rush to return to a video game, valuable communication time with the family will be lost.

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