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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How do I limit my child's television use?

    My 8 year old son watchines TV almost every hour of the day that he is not in school. He rushes through dinner to watch tv and turns it on in the morning while waiting for breakfast. We know this is not a healthy habit but always get in arguments when we try to explain to him that there are more productive things to do. Advice?
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    Grant McKell


    Grant McKell is a counselling psychologist working in Sydney's inner west with over ten years' experience. He founded HeadsUp Psychology in August, 2011. Having worked in … View Profile

    Ok, there are a few ways with this, and you are right to want to limit the TV use. Too much TV or computer use exposes young people to a limited experience at a time when their brains are responding to the world around them.

    They must understand that you are the adult, it is YOUR TV and you make the rules, not them. This is a battle worth winning at this age; you don't want to have these same sorts of arguments with a teenager.

    1). Let them choose one TV show a day they would like to watch
    2). Use this TV show as a reward for something you want them to do: tidying a room, completing homework or going for a run.
    3). Following on from 2, think about what you want them to do instead of watching TV. Do you want them to go outside and play? Direct them to what you want them TO DO and reward it. When parents tell kids to “Turn off the TV”, kids often do so and then might say something like, “I'm bored, what can I do?”. This is a legitimate question, make sure you have an answer ready. Have lots of other activities at hand (eg. board games, sports equipment) and encourage their friends to come over and play.
    4). Be in charge of the remote control. Don't give it to your child. Ever.
    5). Be prepared to remove the antenna cord and hide it during the initial stages. Make sure that the only way the TV is on is if you put it on. Make it inoperative outside of those times.
    6). Be prepared for tantrums and meltdowns when these new rules take effect. Don't engage with the tantrums, simply say “These are the new rules”, calmly and don't get off your agenda.
    7). This is a huge one- don't give into the tantrums. If you do, they will be worse the next time you put your foot down. Tantrums must never succeed

    You also said there are arguments when you try to explain to him that there are more productive things to do. Ok, don't get into an argument. Not everything has to be explained to an 8 year old. At this age, your house is not a democracy- you set the rules. Save negotiation for when he is a teenager. Explain the new rules with him when the TV is not on, but you don't have to justify them. The more you talk, the more points of argument you offer to your child. It is simple. “There is one hour of TV each day, which show would you like to watch?” If he argues, simply repeat, “There is one hour of TV each day, which show would you like to watch?” and be a broken record with this. Stay calm, don't bite at things he says and don't give in.
    There will be sulking, tantrums and attempts to break this new rule- hold your ground and don't give in.
    If you'd like to discuss this in more detail, behaviour modification of kids is a specialty of mine and I do conduct home visits in Sydney's Inner West and Eastern Suburbs. Feel free to contact me, obligation free, my details are on my website: HeadsUp Psychology

    Let us know on here how things go!

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