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Melissa Arca: Limit your kids' screen time

Published: Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1D

"Minecraft" and "Doc McStuffins." Are they all the rage these days, or is this just in my house? No doubt whatever the age of your children, they have a favorite video game or TV show that begs their attention the second they come home from school.

Add the convenience of mobile media, and screens essentially follow us wherever we go. Of course, as with anything great (and there are significant benefits to being connected), there are certainly negatives (like having your or your child's face stuck in a glowing screen all day). So, moderation is a must but not always easy to achieve, particularly when challenged with relentless whining and/or complaints.

But, parents, it is important. Kids need down time, free play, the outdoors, books, and connection with real live people. So forge on and realize that moderating screen time is a must. Here are my tips for easy moderating without the added fuss.

Timers: We use these a lot in my house. Set them for 20-30 minutes at a time to give kids an end point to their screen use. That way, they know ahead of time and aren't surprised when you announce their screen time is up. It's much less confrontational, and they usually comply quite easily.

In general it's best to limit total screen time to no more than two hours a day. And if you ask me, that's actually quite a bit when you factor in school, homework and after-school activities. Save the movies for the weekend.

Practice what you preach: My son is really good at calling us on this one. "Why do you get to be on your phone, but I can't play on the computer?" Well, he's right. If I want him to rein in his screen time, I must too. I'm trying really hard to not check my email just because I can. It's ridiculous really.

Being a good role model in this regard will really pay off. So turn off the TV, put down that iPhone, and go play with your children.

Be in the know: Know what games, TV shows and apps your children are using. Make sure they're age-appropriate. If you aren't sure, check out Common SenseMedia (www.commonsensemedia. org), a fantastic resource for parents on books, movies, games and more.

Even better, play or watch with your children. If your children are going to using some form of media, get involved with them so you can interact, play and talk about what they're seeing and doing.

No screens allowed: Declare a few screen-free zones in your house, like the dinner table and bedrooms. Mealtime should be about eating and connecting with each other, not eating with one hand and playing Angry Birds with the other.

Keep TVs and all other screens out of the bedrooms. This will help ease your kids into their nightly bedtime routine without distractions and will help them fall asleep sooner and easier. Studies have demonstrated the disruptive effect of "screen glow" on sleep, and turning off the screens at least one hour before lights out has been show to aid in earlier shut-eye.

With all these rules in mind, remember that flexibility is important too. So while I generally do not like my kids automatically begging for my phone the second they hop into the car after school, I do allow screens on long car trips.

And the weekends? Well, who doesn't like a lazy Sunday morning filled with cartoons, coffee and the newspaper?

In today's media-dominated culture, moderating our children's consumption is a must for their overall health and well-being. And we absolutely can do it with a little finesse, some ground rules, and a bit of flexibility.

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