Too much TV! I started keeping track of how much time my preschooler was spending in front of the television, and it was appalling. Then, Santa delivered a Leapster Explorer to our house, and our little one developed a bit of an addiction. During the week after Christmas, she would wake up and ask for the Leapster. When we imposed limits, her response was, “Okay – let’s watch a movie.” Yikes.
Even the biggest fans of educational programming will admit that too much time spent watching television or gaming is probably not a good idea for children. Most studies are telling us that television and video games can lead to issues with behavior and aggression.* As American children spend more and more time using media, they are spending less time exercising, so we are seeing health problems associated with the lifestyle. Bad news. I was amazed during the week after Christmas to see the immediate impacts of the time that Little Hippie was spending with the video gaming system and television. She was lethargic, she wouldn’t follow directions, she hit people (very out of the ordinary for her), and she easily fell to pieces over small disappointments. She was nuts.
Now that school is back in session, we are piloting a media allowance plan to encourage more physical activity and less time in braindead mode.
Here’s how it is working for us:
Each day, Little Hippie receives 4 tickets. We use raffle tickets because we had a bunch left over from an event, but you could make your own very easily. Each ticket is worth 15 minutes of media time: television, DVD, Leapster, or computer. She keeps the tickets in the drawer where her Leapster is stored. When she wants to use one, she puts it into a special bank that she decorated.
We set a timer for 15 minutes, and start it once the show, movie, or game begins. Once the timer goes off, the media goes off immediately (or is paused long enough to put another ticket into the Media Time bucket) . The rule is no waiting and no whining. The beep = turn off.
As she is getting used to the program, we are adding little flourishes. She can save tickets for use later or to trade for other prizes like books, small toys, treats, or special outings. We have a “store” for shopping with tickets, but LH can also negotiate for other items .
Another addition is the ability to earn extra media time through chores and exercise. The exercise trade is especially helpful during the winter months because there is a logical link to one of the reasons we are limiting her media time. We can discuss healthy behaviors and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle (we don’t phrase it that way, of course). LH also burns off some of that frenetic energy. In terms of household tasks, I will admit that I enjoy the powerful incentive to completing chores quickly and thoroughly.
So far, so good with this program. I had to help her detox for a week, stepping down her media usage gradually. I found, however, that introducing the tickets led to a lot fewer arguments – the physical presence of the tickets makes the ideas a lot more concrete. Now, we have very few battles. She is even starting to choose her entertainment more carefully. I have heard LH say, “Well, maybe I don’t want to watch that show so I can save my tickets for a movie later today.” Hopefully, the system will keep working well. If not, I will keep you updated!
*There is a fantastic page out of the University of Michigan that provides a fact sheet about media usage and effects for children. Check it out at: http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/tv.htm