The question this month at PAIL is concerning Television screen time and your child.
I find this an interesting subject because it is, of course, very subjective and frankly, changeable with age.
We have a general guideline with our children. The general guide is they can have a 1/2 hour of television time in the morning and then 1/2 hour of television at night and then there might be 1/2 hour of "family" television. On the weekends this can be changed to 1/2 - 1 an hour morning and night. And there are exceptions for movies and special events.
That is the general guideline but it is not so strictly enforced. And here is why:
--During the summer and school vacations, rules are relaxed.
--My son is now 13 years old. Sometimes he wants to play a video game for 1/2 hour and then later on watch television too.
--Having a 13 year old in the house often means my four year old gets exposure to television and computers a lot more than I would necessarily like. Distraction only works so well sometimes.
--We make exceptions often for good behavior or long days or times when it is rainy/snowy, etc.
Here are rules that are NOT BROKEN:
--85% of the time a parent is watching with the child (this hasn't changed that much even with my 13 year old--in fact, we watch a lot of shows with him like 30 Rock and Modern Family)
--after a media time there is a break. The media is turned off. People explore books or the outdoors or whatever. Some meaningful time away from the media is important.
--No handheld games. No DVDs in the car. There are plenty of opportunities for these things, why make it even more portable.**
--We have one television in our living room; the computer is in a corner in the living room. This is our family area, this is where most of the watching occurs. The only other television is in our bedroom, I mainly use it for morning exercising.
My television/computer usage philosophy is pretty open. It has changed as my son has gotten older. We have put in parental controls on the television and the computer. He occasionally surfs the web now and we monitor what his history is. He is not on Facebook or other social media, although he does on-line games. He often watches programs with us that have more adult content. He started watching R rated movies with us when he was 11 years old (violence doesn't bother us or him--it is sexual content that we are more vigilant about). (Btw some of the R rated movies were Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List).
Our philosphy has changed as we added another child. For example, there was no television usage at all until my son was age 2 years. Obviously, my daughter was exposed a lot earlier, as my son was 9-10 years old when my daughter was born. She has definitely had more television viewing and more movies under her belt...she has went to the movies since she was 6 months old. One of the ways we limit her exposure is to make sure her bedtime is reinforced so that we have time to watch our shows. Or if our son wants to watch a specific type of program, he has to wait until a parent takes her out of the viewing area (outdoors, etc.).
This can sometimes mean that it takes us two years to get through Walking Dead (because our son wants to watch it with us so we have to have a conflagration of time when our daughter is asleep, husband is not working, son is not going to school the next morning, we are in the mood, etc.). But thank the gods for DVRs, DVDs and Netflix.
Media can be a good teaching tool. Often we watch meaningful movies or documentaries with our son and discuss them with him (see above). My daughter watches mainly educational television and I try (oh gosh this is HARD sometimes!) to watch them with her and engage her.
Media can also be a great source of entertainment and family time. We are science fiction Geeks so we take it upon ourselves to have our children well versed in Star Trek and Twilight Zone. And the many times we have had a Rock Band party or a Wii bowling tournament has shown us how to be together rather than apart.
However, as with most things, moderation is the key.
We also take our kids to museums and theatrical shows, to zoos, plays and concerts. We are lucky we live in a wonderful area to expose them to history, nature and the arts and we take advantage of that as much as possible. We have Friday night family gaming nights (sometimes lately that is movie night) and we try to maintain that balance.
**UPDATED TO ADD: Someone in the comments mentioned going on long trips and portable devices. This is what I put into the comments section: We have most of our relatives living in Michigan, so we have taken 14-18 hour (one way) trips with our kids. And no portable devices. We play games, kids sleep, we have them pick songs etc. We talk. No need to have videos whatsoever. Yeah, long car rides can be boring--or they can be an adventure! If we get too bored/tired--we stop along the way.