“Questions and Answers,” Ensign, Sept. 2005, 54–57
How can I encourage my children to spend less time in front of the television and computer and more time engaged in healthy physical activity?
Change your family room or living room furniture so that the focus of the room is on something other than the television. If possible, place the television in a cabinet with opaque doors that can be closed when the TV is not in use. Reduce the number of televisions in the house.
In our family we have tried to focus on toys that encourage physical activity: scooters (not motorized), bikes, a minitrampoline, jump ropes, and balls.
Rachael Bell, Chimacum Ward, Port Angeles Washington Stake
Place the computer in a commonly used part of the house rather than in a quiet room or study. Make this the only computer connected to the Internet. In this way, children are less likely to be “off task” when using the computer. A computer-scheduling sheet helps resolve the problem of everyone wanting to use the computer at once.
It has been our experience that when lying in front of a television set or playing on a computer screen are not easy options for children or teenagers, they will look for other forms of recreation.
Barry and Judi Brocas, Palmerston North Ward, Palmerston North New Zealand Stake
Since my husband makes video games for a living, this has been a sensitive issue in our family. Not long ago, we realized that our three oldest boys (ages three, five, and seven) were spending too much time watching movies and playing video games. So we introduced the idea that our minds and bodies need to follow a “word of wisdom” much like the one in Doctrine and Covenants 89. Television and video games represent “dessert items,” not a nourishing meal.
To help our boys with this concept, we gave each boy a small jar containing plastic cookies that represented how much media time he could spend in a week. We then allowed our sons to choose how much time to spend in front of the computer or television by paying for the time with cookies. The first week, all the cookies were gone in two or three days, and our sons began complaining about the new system. We gently reminded them of the “word of wisdom” analogy and suggested that their bodies and brains needed something more nourishing than cookies. Sometimes we stopped what we were doing and helped them get engaged in something new. The second week, each boy was able to make his cookies last until Saturday. By the third week, some of the cookies didn’t get used at all!
We don’t use the cookies anymore. Thankfully, our boys seem to get bored with an excess of computer, TV, and video game time. However, the jars of cookies still sit above the television for the next time our children have a “media sweet tooth.”
Sarah Cloward, Durham First Ward, Durham North Carolina Stake
Our family had a home evening lesson about the benefits of exercise and caring for our bodies. We motivated ourselves by using the Physical Fitness Award program found in the Family Home Evening Resource Book (item no. 31106, U.S. $6.00) and on the Church Web site www.providentliving.org. Family members earned points by participating in physical activities to earn a bronze, silver, or gold award certificate.
Each family’s solutions may be different. For our own situation, we limit screen time to a certain number of hours, only on the weekends. I also keep the power cord to the game equipment so that the children have to come to me for permission to use it.
Bonnie Morey, Bangkok (English) Branch, Bangkok Thailand Stake
We have dedicated one family home evening each month to wholesome recreational activities. Here are some activities we have enjoyed that do not cost a lot of money:
Have snow time. Painting in the snow, building snow forts or snow people to represent your family, and having a snowball shot-put contest are just a few suggestions.
Turn up the music and dance, or perform as an air band. Getting creative to music is always a hit with young children.
Set up an obstacle course. Be creative and enjoy the challenge.
Go for a nature hike. Bring a magnifying glass, pen, and paper to design a nature scrapbook. Record the plants, animals, and other treasures you find along the way.
Sign up for a walk or run for charity. Supporting a good cause will help your children feel the satisfaction that comes from being part of something bigger than themselves.
Go on a treasure hunt or bury a family time capsule.
Fly a kite.
Have a picnic on top of a mountain or by a waterfall. Enjoy the beautiful world you live in.
Chantelle Adams, Westbank Branch, Vernon British Columbia Stake
If we want our children to be more active and spend less time passively sitting in front of electronic devices, we need to first take time to participate in other activities with them. My husband and I noticed that most attempts to tell our kids to “Go do ___” elicited no cooperation, whereas a summons to “Come practice soccer with me!” brought a better response.
Don’t get upset about muddy shoes or ripped jeans—it goes with the territory. We try to have plenty of play or work clothes for the children to choose from. Endeavor to make exercise fun, not a stressful event.
When televisions and computers are in bedrooms, they are much harder to monitor, and it is easier to get addicted or at least distracted from more important goals and activities. Thus, we vetoed the request of an adolescent child to have a personal television in her own room.
Leslie-Maria Harris Cramer, Windaroo Ward, Brisbane Australia Logan Stake
We go on family walks of 25 or 30 minutes nearly every night. We make the walks a positive adventure by taking one or more pets, playing games like hide-and-seek, having races, looking at bugs and plants, talking with neighbors, and so on. Our children will often voluntarily leave the TV to ask, “Can we go on our walk now?”
Ali and Daniel L. Orr II, Las Vegas Eighth Ward, Las Vegas Nevada Stake
When choosing activities to enjoy as a family, remember that you don’t have to be good at something to enjoy it. Even my own daughter would tell me that I “throw like a girl.” I would answer, “That’s OK by me; I am one!” Also, it’s never too late to learn. Although my husband is an excellent swimmer, I always just stayed in the shallow water. When my school-age children were taking swimming lessons and leaving me behind, I decided to take adult beginner swimming lessons. Soon I was able to swim lengths of the pool and tread water in the deep end with the children when we went on family swims. Through family activities, the children came to enjoy physical exercise and needed little prompting to turn off the computer or the TV to go out and do things on their own or with friends.
Elaine Gunnell, Temiskaming Branch, Sudbury Ontario Stake
Some time ago my wife and I felt inspired to make every other day a “No TV Day.” We made a sign, using a couple of Velcro strips and a plastic sheet protector. The sign hangs on the front of our television. One side reads: “Today is an ODD day—TV Day. Some TV and computer games are OK today.” Of course, on these days we still monitor the content of the programs our children watch. On even days of the month, the sign is flipped over and placed so that it blocks the screen: “Today is an EVEN day—No-TV Day. TV allowed only on birthdays or odd days.”
When we started this practice, I feared that the children would try to spend even more time in front of the TV on the TV days. Actually, the opposite is true. No-TV days allowed our family to discover wholesome, fun, family-oriented games and physical activities that we previously ignored. More productive and creative activities soon started taking up more of our TV days as well. As the children have grown, computer games have joined the TV as every-other-day activities. We don’t always need to enforce this practice strictly, but when we notice our lives becoming timed around the TV schedule, we bring out the sign!
Nathan Hunt, Avon Ward, Indianapolis Indiana North Stake
The reward for good behavior at our house is being able to read the maximum number of storybooks (usually three in addition to the scriptures they read every night) at bedtime with Mommy or Daddy instead of getting to watch a TV program. When the girls make poor choices during the day, they lose the privilege of hearing one story. It is so refreshing to see how much our children value getting to read those books.
When they do watch TV, we limit it to just one short video per day. We choose videos or DVDs rather than television programs so that we can better control the content and limit the number of commercials our girls watch.
Kjersten Johnson, Mission Lake Ward, Santa Margarita California Stake
One facet of our effort to limit the availability of electronic toys is talking to the parents in our neighborhood. Every household has different rules, but parents are better able to support one another when they know each family’s approach.
Susanne Robbins, Rexburg First Ward, Rexburg Idaho North Stake
Some ideas that may help turn your family’s attention away from the television are:
Help your children get started with hobbies—scrapbooking, building models, gardening, cooking, rock polishing. The possibilities are endless.
Introduce them to the local library. Read and discuss books together.
Instead of spending Saturday mornings in front of the television, explore your surroundings with your kids. Visit the points of interest near or around your town together.
Work on a home improvement project together. Redecorate your children’s room and let them help.
Casie Adams, Hualapai Foothills Ward, Kingman Arizona Stake
“One of the ways Satan lessens your effectiveness and weakens your spiritual strength is by encouraging you to spend large blocks of your time doing things that matter very little. I speak of such things as sitting for hours on end watching television or videos, playing video games night in and night out, surfing the Internet, or devoting huge blocks of time to sports, games, or other recreational activities.
“Don’t misunderstand me. These activities are not wrong in and of themselves (unless, of course, you are watching salacious programs or seeking out pornographic images on the Internet). …
“But I speak of letting things get out of balance. …
“One devastating effect of idling away our time is that it deflects us from focusing on the things that matter most. Too many people are willing to sit back and let life just happen to them. It takes time to develop the attributes that will help you to be a well-balanced person.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Be Strong in the Lord,” Ensign, July 2004, 13–14.