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How to prevent screen overload for kids on break

Nicole Dreiske advises students Dumas Technology Academy about how engage constructively with screens.  |  ICMC

Nicole Dreiske advises students at the Dumas Technology Academy about how to engage constructively with screens. | ICMC

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» Be informed about what your children is watching or wants to watch. Among the resource websites Dreiske recommends are Common Sense Media, Movie Mom, the Fred Rogers Center, and the TEC Center at the Erikson Institute.

» Avoid passive viewing with your children. Engage them in conversation while you both are watching a program.

» When discussing programs or movies with your children, adapt the same engaging tone of voice you use when reading them a book.

» Do a “screen-use check” on yourself. If children see their parents focused on screens for three to six hours a day, that’s what they’re going to want to do as well.

Updated: February 1, 2014 6:03AM

Parents struggling to control the amount of time their children spend with their screens have met their Waterloo: winter break. The average American 8- to 10-year-old spends around eight hours per day in front of a screen, while teens may spend as many as 11 hours per day, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports. Vacation from school, inclement weather and new gadgets received during the holidays are a perfect storm for screen abuse.

But rather than look at this as a problem, parents should view these weeks as an opportunity to interact with their children in a meaningful way about what they are watching and how they are responding to it, offers Nicole Dreiske, founder of the Chicago-based International Children’s Media Center, which offers workshops and festivals for teachers, parents and children that promote constructive screen engagement.

“Thinking that you don’t have any control over the avalanche of screens that your children choose to watch is very disempowering for parents,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how many opportunities kids have to interface with screens, parents are still the most important people in their lives, and the holidays are a time for family.”

Building a positive relationship between parents and children around screen time is an achievable goal, Dreiske contends, one that could result in less tension with children over media and gaming choices and time limits.

A mistake parents make, she said, is that they put themselves solely in the position of the “media warden, trying to monitor all the media coming into the home and that’s never going to work,” Dreiske says.

A more constructive approach is to give children an opportunity to talk about what they’re watching. “They love to do that,” Dreiske said. “They love it when parents listen to them. Ask them if they have seen anything fun recently and let them astonish you with what they saw at their friend Johnny’s house the other day. Open the door to real dialogue and you’ll be on the road to having informed children who can make positive [viewing] choices.”

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