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'School Is Out and My Kids Just Want to Watch TV!'

06/03/2014 11:20 am ET | Updated Aug 03, 2014
  • Susan Stiffelman Family therapist, Author, Parenting With Presence, Parenting Without Power Struggles
Izabela Habur via Getty Images

I have three children ages 13, 11 and 9. On weekends and school breaks they have a bad habit of getting out of bed and going downstairs and turning on the TV. They come down at different times, the last being my 13-year-old, which therefore extends their viewing time. Before I know it, two hours has gone by and I am yelling at them to turn it off and do something else! It's probably the fault of my husband and I trying to get some extras z's on the weekend from when they were younger. What do you suggest for TV summer rules and/or the breaking of this bad habit? Please help so we can have a more productive and peaceful summer! Thank you for all your wonderful advice...

I appreciate your dilemma; when children are sitting in front of a television set, there are important things that they aren't doing, like drawing, singing, building, making music, riding bikes, playing catch or engaging in any of the countless activities that contribute to healthy growth and development. Here are my suggestions:

1. Get clear.
At the moment, although you don't like the idea of your kids starting out their mornings on a heavy dose of TV, you very much appreciate the benefits of having them occupied so you can sleep a little longer. Decide how much TV you feel comfortable with them watching and then gather everyone a family meeting to communicate new guidelines. Whether that's 30 minutes between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m., or an hour a day of their choosing, be prepared for pushback if you're going to set new limits.

2. Be brave.
I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it many times again: You cannot hope to parent effectively if you are afraid of upsetting your children. Decide what the guidelines should be for your kids vis-à- vis television viewing, stick to your plan and be prepared for your children to argue, negotiate or stage a protest. "It's not fair! So and so's mom lets him watch five hours a day!" Be kind, be calm, but stay the course.

3. Brainstorm alternatives.
Once your kids understand that you're serious about pulling the plug on unlimited morning TV, they will start getting on board. Sit down together with a big pad of newsprint and brainstorm things they can do when they wake up in the morning and you and dad are still in bed. Click here for resources offered by ScreenFree.org.

4. Go cold turkey.
Hit the reset button on your kids' expectations for the amount of time they get to sit in front of the screen by pulling the plug for a week -- or two! We tend to value things more when they have been in short supply. Your kids will find it easier to adjust to reduced TV time (and more appreciative of the time they do get to watch) if they have had to go without for a little while.

5. Recognize the risks.
While TV watching is safe when compared to playing in the street or using drugs, it is not harmless. If you know that unlimited television viewing saps a child's creativity or their ability to entertain themselves, then it makes sense to set limits.

When children are little, their passion for learning and engagement with the world around them is fierce; most toddlers would rather learn than eat! Allow your kids to be bored for a while and they will tap back into that curiosity for life that they had when they were little ones.

Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach, and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.

To learn more, visit her Facebook page or sign up for her free newsletter.

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