We've all heard the statistics regarding the amount of time the average American child spends in front of the TV set. If you have children, you've undoubtedly witnessed the seductive powers the video screen wields as your kids watch, numb-faced, six consecutive episodes of 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air.'

If you have a strong parental style, you might try just setting strict limits on the amount of TV that kids are allowed to view. This can be effective, but only teaches the kids that you are "mean". Perhaps there is a better way. Consider the benefits that would accrue if we can teach our children that most of what is on those 500 channels is a waste of time, and almost any other activity is preferable to the mental torture involved in viewing mid-day TV fare.

I would like to offer a technique that worked miracles for me. My kids were 12-hour TV marathon junkies. They'd watch sitcom after sitcom, never laughing or smiling, yet insisting to the last that the shows were 'funny'. So, we created some new rules. Here they are:

  1. Before watching television on any given day, the kids must review the online program guide (www.tvguide.com) and pre-select the programs they wish to view for the entire day. If more than one child will be watching, they must agree between themselves on selections. If there is no guide, or if the children cannot agree, no TV can be viewed for this day.
  2. No changes or additions are allowed to be made to the schedule after it is given to the parent. That is, if a selected show turns out to be boring, no substitutions may be made.
  3. The children may not use the remote control; the parent will keep it. This is to discourage 'cheating' during the commercials.

If you implement these rules with your kids, you should see some interesting behaviors arise. First, you will find that the kids will start having a lot of trouble deciding what they want to watch in advance. Is it possible that when you consider the alternatives in a thoughful manner, they don't seem as interesting?

You should be prepared for your children to indicate shock and dismay at the loss of the remote control. You might mention that it is good for them to get up and stretch their legs at least once each hour, even if only to cross the living room. For some reason, without the option of flipping, the 'Fresh Prince' doesn't seem so 'Fresh' anymore.

Over a period of a few weeks, if you hold firm to the rules and don't put up with cheating, you should notice that your children's self-elected viewing time begins dropping off. You will find that on some days, the kids don't think that watching is worth the time required to write up the list of programs. Furthermore, in the process, your children's planning and negotiating skills have improved. You might even credit yourself with one of those rare parental 'wins'.

Here's a novel idea: make more time to be with your kids yourself.

Listen to music with them, play board games, read to them, do arts and crafts projects together, let them help you cook, take them to concerts and plays and ballgames, get them outdoors and watch them play.

If you can't make time for your kids because you are too busy, give them fun assignments. Ask them to draw pictures for you, read a book and tell you about it, build a castle out of blocks, write a story or poem for you, make up a dance, give them a tape recorder and let them record stuff, or have them plan and perform a skit and let them dress up in your old clothes.

When your kids do watch TV, watch it with them. This not only lets you monitor what they watch, but also gives you an opportunity to discuss with them what you are watching together. I suggest watching documentaries and nature shows - kids love that stuff and there is a lot to talk about.

Oh, lastly, and maybe most importantly, watch less TV yourself! If you must watch, watch after they have gone to bed. TV will seem much less interesting to your kids if they think it's uninteresting to you!

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