This is a terrific question and one that I'm asked almost EVERY single day so you're definitely not alone!
I suggest that you limit your child under 13-years to two hours a day of recreational screen time (ALL combined!) I know that sounds tough, but it is very important for kids to find other ways to occupy their time than by watching TV and playing video/computer games. This also includes the time they spend with friends.
In fact, a great rule for most kids (except those who have particular social struggles) is that no screen time be allowed during play time with friends. This encourages much better socializing!
Next, during the school year, all screen time should be reserved for after homework is over. If your child needs a little downtime before beginning homework, no problem! However, once you turn on the TV it's very hard to get it turned off, so exclude TV from pre-homework relaxing.
Finally, all screentime should be over at least 30 minutes before bed. The stimulation of the bright lights of even the smallest screens can interfere with falling asleep (for kids and adults!)
Good Wishes and Great Parenting,
Dr Susan Bartell
JustAsk Expert www.drsusanbartell.com
NEW book “The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask”
A good start (atleast for television) is always four hours. This includes any family time that you may have with the child. This way, the child may watch eight shows, or even a movie. If the child is constantly watching tv, and rarely doing other things, you may want to start with 6 hours. The less tv time you have, the more likely your child is to disobey rules. If he/she is at a party where they watch tv, the child need not to be scolded for it (unless he/she watches as much tv as they are allowed before the party, knowing that much telvision will be watched).
For video games, I allow time depending on the game. If it has levels that are each 10-15 minutes then it is easy to allow your child to go from say level five to ten, and then get off. If playing a game where levels are short, perhaps ten levels would be acceptable. Overall I like to stick with an hour time limit.
The computer is a hard thing to judge with time limits. If the child is on a website such as webkinz or facebook perhaps an hour would be a good maximum. If he/she is doing something educational I don't give a time limit.
As for earning or losing time, It depends on what the adult would like to do. If the child is always inside, and spends the day outside, maybe a reward (not involving a screen) could be given to encourage the child to stay away from electronics. If they do extra chores or something involving this, the amount of extra hours that he/she worked (aside from required duties) it depends. If they worked a short amount of time, and did a good job, I give them the same amount of time that they worked. If they did a decent job, I give them half the time they worked. If they worked a long time, such as six hours, it is up to you. I normally say that their awarded time can be used whenever they please (except when grounded).
When grounded, I don't allow any screens unless NEEDED for educational purposes. I stick with at maximum a 6 hour time limit for all screens. Best of luck!
When I was a kid, my mom let me pick a couple of one hour shows that I wanted to watch each week, and (pending her approval) I was allowed to watch just those. Her goal was to get me to avoid planting myself in front of the TV whenever I was feeling bored, and consequently, I thought of TV as more of a reward than a privilege. (It was also the first thing that got taken away whenever I misbehaved.) The rest of my screen time came from a movie or two that we would enjoy together on the weekends. In total, I would say that ended up being about 5 to 6 hours per week of screen time.
That said, times have changed a little bit. Parents are definitely in for more of a challenge with the variety and abundance of technology that's out there. Between smart phones, e-readers, computers, and good old-fashioned televisions, time spent in front of some sort of screen has inevitably become an almost constant part of kids' (and adults') lives. I've read that both attention problems and obesity have been linked to too much screen time. The first link I'm including is to an interesting article I read in the New York Times about the high rate of technology consumption today, and its effect on kids. It's a little dismal, but it contains some interesting information.
I'm also including a link to recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics concerning the amount and types of screen time that kids of different ages should be exposed to.
Wanted to quickly share that my limits are directed mostly toward programming with commercials. I've found that removing the actual endless TV shows and replacing that with quality feature films or a commercial-free program via streaming Netflix has really cut down on TV time.
When our kids were in grade school, we limited our kids during the school year. We had a "no screens" rule during study time, which consisted of most weeknights. We would reward our children for good behavior and school performance with some screens. Now that they are in high school and college we have little problem with television watching during the school year. Also we didn't allow our children to have a television in their bedroom.
We are careful about computer usage. Most important is to keep the computer in a public place.
Research shows that when parents create rules and limits about TV, children listen (http://bit.ly/a9qsbO). In my work as a pediatrician and as Director of the Center on Media and Child Health, I suggest creating limits not only for television, but for all screen-time (television, computers, and video games), like you mention.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) makes these specific recommendations:
* Children younger than two: No screen media
* Children over two: Two hours or less per day
The key is to approach the issue in the same way you do seat belts or nutrition; as an expectation, not a request. While you should discuss the reason for screen-time limits and appropriate media content with your children, these rules should not be up for negotiation.