Too Much Television? How to Curb Your Kids’ TV Time

8 year old girl lying down on carpet watching tv

Maybe it’s the Paw Patrol theme song on constant repeat in your head or the fact that your daughter knows every word, song, and dance move to Descendents 1, 2 and 3.

It could be your teenager’s infatuation with all million Marvel movies (they’re still making more?) or encyclopedic knowledge of all 800+ characters from the Pokémon shows and films. 

In any of these cases, your kids may be watching too much TV. 

In today’s technological and entertainment-focused world, the variety of television programming and instant streaming (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu) is basically limitless. In the past two decades, shows have become a quick download away and are ever-focused on a growing target audience–our kids.

Instantly streamable kid movies and shows are prolific and lucrative. Some may be solely entertaining, while others aim to be moral and educational. 

Some even captivate and amuse the parents (while others, no doubt, annoy). 

Marvel movies, as mentioned above, aren’t even family movies per se–but kids love them. In any genre, the goal of television programming is to be wildly entertaining and addictive to audiences.

For our children, it is undeniably both.

It may start small, with your kindergartener watching an extra episode of Fancy Nancy or your teenager negotiating an extra 15 minutes of Spider-Man Homecoming. But then, all of a sudden, your kids are spending multiple hours a day glued to the screen. 

Whether it’s too much television throughout the year or just during certain times, most parents are conscientious enough to know that children shouldn’t spend an exorbitant amount of time in front of the TV. 

But do you feel powerless to curb the habit? Is the thought of enforcing stricter limits overwhelming to both you and your kids?

The good news is that there is hope. It will take some dedication, but with a few simple strategies, you can guide your kids back to a reasonable amount of screen time. 

First of All, How Much Is Too Much TV?

I get it. Television is a great way for kids to zone out and relax after school, in the evenings, or on lazy weekend mornings. 

And let’s be honest, it also provides parents a much-needed break. After all, there are only so many crafts you can come up with or board games you can play when the weather’s extreme and you’re entertaining stir-crazy kids

Sometimes, we just need to occupy children so we can finish those long-put-off chores or work from home. 

Honestly, it’s no wonder many of us give in to looser television limits–we need to get stuff done and stay sane! 

The point is, without limits, television usage can be a slippery slope. 

It’s hard to quantify exactly what constitutes too much television for children. It depends on a variety of factors, including a child’s personality and age. What is certain is that kids are watching more television than ever before and excessive usage can invite a host of negative effects

Just like you, your kids need to live well-balanced lives. Setting television limits and parental controls is a great starting point. It’s also important to remain aware of what your kids are watching and how shows might be affecting them. 

The best way to tell if television (and technology in general) has become problematic for your child is to look for troublesome warning signs. 

 Note: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, please visit/review the Specialty Module, “Family Technology Survival Plan.”

Signs of Television Addiction 

Television addiction can exhibit the same signs as any other kind of addiction:

  • If you are setting limits on screen time and find that your children are concealing usage or regularly breaking the rules, they are probably addicted. 
  • If children throw tantrums, become irritable, or act uncontrollably when you remove the television, this is a clear indication of an unhealthy dependence. 
  • If children are suffering in school, consider whether or not television might have something to do with it. 
  • If your child is consistently staying up late and losing sleep due to television, this is a clear sign of addiction. Irregular sleep patterns and consistent loss of sleep can affect a child’s learning and cognitive abilities and needs to be addressed immediately. 
  • If your child always chooses television over other traditionally fun and social activities, he or she has probably reached an unhealthy level of screen-time dependence. 

If you notice any of the signs above, it is time for a television intervention. So, roll up your sleeves and get ready to regain control of the tube. 

Setting Healthy Limits on Television

If you’re like most families, taking television away altogether isn’t realistic or desirable. I can also tell you, that as long as you maintain healthy control over it, it isn’t necessary. 

The main objective is to help your kids refrain from binge-watching and not let television detract from either their responsibilities or their mental, physical, and social well-being. 

Implementing When-Then Routines Before TV Time

If your kids are used to watching television and not getting their rudimentary tasks done first (like family contributions, homework, music practice, etc.), consider using When-Then terminology with them. 

When-Then is one of the 37 tools you’ll learn through our online course at Positive Parenting Solutions. Join me for a free class and learn one of our other wildly popular tools–the 5Rs to fair and effective consequences.

When you are done emptying the dishwasher and taking out the trash, Kyle, then you can watch your show.”

When you are done with all of your homework, Jasmine, then you can download that new movie on iTunes.”

When-Then is a great way to put the responsibility in your kids’ laps. They know what they need to do to watch the television. They can control when that happens by deciding to accomplish the less-than-desirable task first, on their terms. 

When-Then becomes even more powerful when you establish it as part of a routine. If Kyle knows he has to empty the dishwasher every day, there will be a point when you no longer even have to say “When-Then.” He’ll just do it. The routine becomes the boss, you get your dishes put away, and Kyle gets to watch his television after being a more productive member of the family. 

Please Note: Make sure you don’t present television usage as a special reward. This will make tasks feel more like unbearable chores. When-Then Routines work best if the goal is an already-established privilege that can only be enjoyed after necessary tasks are completed. 

Nixing the Nagging/Negotiating

When-Then Routines also eliminate the need for you to nag and negotiate with your kids. 

Nagging your children to stop or start doing something usually turns into a power struggle. They feel belittled because they don’t think you believe they can accomplish things without your reminders (and maybe you really do think this!). This will make them feel annoyed, defensive, and less likely to cooperate. 

Also, if in a moment of weakness you give in when your child tries to bargain with you, you send the message that everything is up for negotiation. You might think that allowing a few more minutes of television isn’t a big deal, but a few months down the road you could have a child glued to a screen all day. 

Avoid getting dragged into a negotiation, listening to whining, or being sucked into a power struggle by simply stating When-Then, and walking away. After all, if you stick around, you provide an audience for the badgering and you may find yourself giving in! 

Stay strong, and your kids will learn that no amount of whining will change your mind. Case closed.

Leading by Example

If we place a lot of value in our own TV viewing, our kids will learn the same. It’s certainly fine to have our adult TV time (after all, we deserve to relax AND need to stay relevant for the next adult dinner party), but it’s best not to consistently “veg” in front of the television while our children are watching. 

If we enjoy the great outdoors, like to read, cook fun meals, or play an instrument or sport, our kids will catch on and be influenced by these healthy hobbies. The earlier we can introduce our kids to these non-electronic alternatives, the better. 

It’s so easy to become hypocritical and allow our personal actions to fall contrary to the expectations we have of our children. Just stay vigilant and try to “practice what you preach.”

Offering One-on-One Parent/Child Time

You can always encourage less television viewing by suggesting one-on-one time with your child, doing something she chooses.

Spending undistracted, quality time with our children is incredibly empowering for kids. It gives them a sense of importance and value that they crave. It’s personal attention, a chance for connection, and a FUN activity. Used routinely and correctly, your kids will become addicted to it–perhaps even more so than television.

You can suggest kicking a soccer ball back and forth, playing a game of Uno, taking a walk to the park, or even going on a mini scavenger hunt around the house. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or well planned-out (unless you’d like it to be)–it just needs to be at least 10-15 minutes of daily, child-directed, personal time with your kids.

This may seem unrealistic to those of you with withdrawn teenagers. But believe me–they need this one-on-one time just as much as the toddlers in your life. Don’t stop encouraging it or finding the time and means to implement it. 

Please Note: If your child wants to use television as your one-on-one activity, this is okay every once in a while within the following limits: make sure you are watching the television together; make sure you are discussing what you’re watching; and try to keep it educational for little tykes. 

Limiting Instantaneous Downloads (in an Age of Entitlement)

Have you tried introducing some of your favorite older movies to your kids, only to hear them say, “This is so boring.” “Why is this so slow?”Is this seriously in black and white?” 

Our current era of instant gratification can make viewing older movies with slower plot lines and less special effects a real drag for kids. We know how fun and action-packed television and movies are these days.

Even playing a DVD seems archaic to today’s kids. Despite quickly finding the DVD and fast-forwarding through the pre-programmed previews to the menu screen, a (mere) minute later, your kids are wondering what took so long. 

A lack of patience and inability to be bored are just smaller signs of the entitlement epidemic facing kids today. 

(In my book, The “Me Me Me” Epidemic, I discuss at length not only why many of today’s children believe in inherently special treatment–but also how we can combat it.)

A quote about the entitlement epidemic
It may not seem like instant digital downloads can have that much of an effect on a child’s expectations or actions in life, but it certainly does play into the idea that today’s kids don’t have to wait for a payoff. 

Working and waiting for desired outcomes is something our youngsters still need to learn. Maybe now more than ever. 

If you’re worried about creating entitled kids, implementing control over the television can make a difference.

Try making them wait until the weekend for a special movie night–a movie that you all take turns choosing. Since they’ve had to wait all week it may make them more receptive to watching something they didn’t pick out (or something from your youth that is now apparently ancient).

Final Thoughts

Television, my friend, is here to stay. Maybe futuristic TVs will fly around the house for special effect, morph into IMAX screens, or automatically lower the volume during commercials (you never know). But beyond bigger and better entertainment value, the presence of television is most likely permanent.  

Instead, we need to focus on managing television’s addictive qualities and not let it affect our children’s health, progress, and goals. 

I realize it’s easier said than done. After all, I raised two kids in the digital age. But I also know from experience that you can reset your television rules for the benefit of all. 

So there you have it. Now’s the time to get you and your kids on track for manageable, guiltless, and worry-free screen time. And we’re here to guide you every step of the way. 

For more tools, I encourage you to check out my FREE ONLINE CLASS. You’ll learn the 5Rs for implementing effective consequences for misbehaviors–including the excessive or inappropriate use of technology.

Title Image: Alena Ozerova / Shutterstock

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About the Author

Amy McCready
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions® and the best-selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on The Doctors, CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.