Reader Sue asked, “I have a seven year old daughter, can you suggest ways and means to keep her occupied during the summer holidays. I don’t want her to get hooked on to the TV or the hi-tech games.”
I think this is a multi-faceted question, because there are many aspects to managing large amounts of free time for kids. In the first article, I covered summer camps, and in the second, finding activities for kids to do. In this one I will cover limiting (undesirable) activities.
It is very easy to let children spend their time in front of electronic activities. The proliferation of video games, television shows aimed at kids, computers and portable electronics make these forms of entertainment very attractive. Yet too much of these things leads to sedentary lifestyles which in turn can lead to childhood obesity.
With the onset of summer break and the amount of free time available, it is even easier for our kids to get more of these entertainments.
As parents, it is up to us to decide and enforce how much of these activities our children can do. Here are some methods that I have used. I cannot claim the credit for most of these; these methods came from other parents who shared them with me when I was searching for solutions for my own daughter.
This was the first method we tried, and it works somewhat well. The child has to earn electronic privileges by good behavior, and items can be taken away for poor behavior choices.
We found this hard to be consistent on, and soon dropped it as a means of control. We do use it, though, in conjunction with…
This method offers my daughter a set amount of electronics usage every week. She receives four old poker chips with “1” on them every Saturday, each one good for one hour of television, movies, video games or computer time.
She knows we reserve the right at any time to not allow her to spend a chip: no time before school, no time right before bed, and she can’t use a chip until homework is done and the piano practiced. There are other times when we say no as well, but we always tell her why.
We have stated exceptions — family movie night does not count, and long car trips (more than two hours) are “free”. And if family game night takes place on the Wii, that doesn’t count either. If she is legitimately sick, we will also waive the time, since most of the time she will be sleeping in front of the television anyway. We’re still deciding about the Wii Fit time.
It’s supposed to teach her budgeting, but that lesson hasn’t quite sunk in yet. But it does set hard limits on how much she can consume in a week.
In this method, the child has to perform tasks around the house in order to earn electronic time. We laid out a list of tasks, and how much each was “worth”. For example, emptying a trash can was worth 10 minutes, but vacuuming the steps was worth 60.
We found that this led to too much television time, and converted the method so that she earns points toward something she wants us to purchase. Currently she is working toward a new movie.
When the weather is nice out, we will often steer her to play outside. So when she tries to cash in a chip, we point out that it is nice out, and then give her suggestions of what she can do outside. Her playhouse in the backyard is often a target of this, where we suggest a tea party with her stuffed animals or perhaps a bit of cleaning. Or the park next door is used frequently. If we have time, we will also go out and play basketball or go bike riding with her.
Summer activities are great for this: sprinklers, bubbles and sidewalk chalk are all very popular activities.
We reserve the right to say no to spending chips (above), but if it is because we want her to get outside, we will usually negotiate. For example, she can spend her chip if she plays outside for an hour.
No matter what method you use, timers are essential as the impartial monitor to how much time is spent. When my daughter cashes in a chip, we set the timer for 60 minutes, and when the timer goes off, she knows it is time to shut the electronics off. We also give 10- and 5-minute warnings so that she has time to transition out of the activity.
These methods are the ones that we employ to keep a limit on how much time our daughter spends on electronics. She is an active child, and although her ability to recite commercials after two hearings is unnerving, we feel confident that we have hit on a good method
Photo by Photo Monkey