What can my kids do instead of watching TV?

Iris Rodriguez-Johnson, MD
The best thing to do for your children instead of watching television is to get them active. Have them join a sport or dance or gymnastics. If you cannot afford that get them outside. Go for a walk with them. Share in the activities with them. If they see that you are not watching television and are active with them they will appreciate it even more.
Michele Borba
The truth is many kids rely on the television because they don’t know how to entertain themselves. Their lives may be so micromanaged or scheduled that it’s just plain easier to turn on the TV and “veg.” So substitute positive activities and find healthy alternatives. Here are ways: 
  • Schedule low-cost or no-cost activities: Put up a summer calendar in which you actually mark in red ink scheduled activities. Check your city's park and recreation program, the Boys and Girls Clubs, scouting, day camp, summer school. Meet with parents and set up a “kid rotation” pool -- for play dates or sleepovers -- each parent can commit to one hour or one day a week. Don’t try to fill in every hour of every day. Kids need to learn how to manage their own time and entertain themselves.
  • Set up mini unplugged and no-cost entertainment centers: Start by gathering what you already have around the house (and do get your kids involved). Then whenever your kids get that urge to go for the remote, you can suggest something else instead (and have it accessible!). In separate shoeboxes or plastic bins put unplugged “things.”
  • Teach “do-alone” games: Solitaire, Sudoku, puzzles, or crossword puzzles! Alleviate that parental guilt -- you don’t have to plan your kid’s every waking hour in fact you’re doing him a favor if you don’t play social director.
  • Get a library card: The absolute greatest solo activity is reading (my bias anyway). Encourage it! Check out books on tape or download onto your tween’s iPod.
  • Start a hobby: Anything that supports your child’s interest or passion. The trick is that the hobby is also something your child enjoys! Hobbies not only nurture a child’s talent, but also become a wonderful relaxer and can last a lifetime! You might try to find another parent who has the skill to offer “teaching” the hobby to a group of kids!
  • Exercise: Get kids away from the television with exercise! Learn yoga (put the DVD to use by plopping in a yoga or exercise tape, put up a basketball hoop, pick up bikes or weights at a garage sale and turn your garage into a gym, or enroll your kid in a swim program or sports club. Or just open up the door and expose them to the great outdoors: hula hoops, jump ropes, kick the can, kickball, skipping, hopping, playing, running. The trick is to match kids’ interests to activity alternatives so get them involved in the process, then don’t give in. Our kids are play-deprived! Let’s get them moving!
Diana K. Blythe, MD

Almost anything is better than watching TV. The hard part is keeping them away from the TV, once they have gotten used to it. It is instant entertainment with no work.

First, make sure the TV is out of their bedroom. Next, make sure you are not watching TV all day. Your kids learn by example. If you watch TV, they will too. If you exercise daily, they are more likely to pick up the good habit.

Start with activities that are fun like going to the park or enrolling them in soccer. If you can get them to do another activity long enough to forget about TV, you have succeeded. By varying the activities and trying to involve other neighborhood kids (with their parents’ permission), your child will be more likely to stay engaged and away from the TV.

Tempted to use the TV as a babysitter while you get a few things done around the house? Here are some better ideas:
  • Let them "help" you cook, clean, and do laundry. Have your little ones stir, pour, and mix food. Give them a sponge or baby wipe -- and let them go to town. Or, let them help fold, match socks, or put away clothes.
  • Corral them. Use baby gates to keep little ones in a safe area while you cook or shower. Or, use an exersaucer or playpen.
  • Play a music or story CD. Kids will often entertain themselves if they've got a pleasant voice to listen to.
  • Keep it fresh. Put some toys up for a week or two, and then swap them out every so often.
Charles I. Schwartz, MD

Television is only a partial problem, with computers, tablets, video gaming systems, and smartphones being so prevalent. Many pediatricians recommend reading, playing board games, and getting outside for exercise. Parents should monitor what their children are watching or playing on their electronic device to help them make smart choices. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.