Turn Whatever is On Off

Posted January 28, 2011 by

Now that the holidays are over and we’ve made a dent in the new year, no doubt the kids are glued to the many new electronic wonders that have showed up over the last month or so. This is part of being a kid and certainly fine…. in moderation. The problem is we just keep piling on the electronic, time-eating gadgetry without ever compensating. Not many parents pulled the TV out of the house when the computer first arrived. This is a significant problem that we need to address.

We need to turn whatever is on off. It is as simple as that. Young people now devote an average of seven hours and 38 minutes to daily media use, or about 53 hours a week — more than a full-time job — according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report released in early 2010.  Think about that for a second… more than a full time job. The scary part about this is it leaves no time for what they should be doing, specifically school work and being a kid. Now, I am certainly not an anti-TV person. I can recite every line to every episode of I Love Lucy ever made. The key is my parents knew when the box needed to be turned off and there was no discussion about it. We also didn’t have a TV in our rooms, which my wife and I hold to today. I actually had a young relative visit a few years back and ask, once he saw a single TV in my four-bedroom house, “are you poor?” In my book I go through many findings that document the problems associated with the time children spend with electronic media, but I think the astonishing fact mentioned above — more than a full time job each week — cuts to the heart of the matter.

As my six-year-old son would say, “This is a big, big problem.” For the New Year, we need to make changes to the amount of time electronic media is on in the house. Our rules are no TV during the school week, two hours Saturday AM (an American tradition) if rooms are cleaned up, no computer/DS/Leapster until all school work and chores are done and no electronics of any kind after dinner unless it is a family movie night. Also, no cell phone before the age of 16. If there is an issue at school, the child can go to the office and use that mysterious, ancient device called a land-line to call us. Anyone who thinks a phone at school isn’t a huge distraction from what the child should be doing is kidding themselves.

For some households, this will be an easy change. For others it will be a Battle Royal, but it has to happen. The electronic stuff that is on has to go off, period.


John McPherson is a leadership and management consultant in Salinas, CA. John and his wife Christina have two children, Fiona and Carson. Both John and Christina’s parents had a great influence in their upbringing, which helped them define how they would parent their children. Over the past ten years, John observed how many parenting practices have strayed from the principles he and Christina have found to be successful, and this led him to write a book on parenting, entitled "Ten Simple Rules for Being a Parent in a World Turned Upside Down".

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  1. notwhatithought Report

    Moderation and time management are key if you don’t want to start a war in your home. For my ODD son, I have a week night schedule:
    4-5 free time
    5-6 homework
    6-7 dinner and clean kitche
    7-8 family activity
    8-9 TV
    9-10 read and bed
    It works great until something else comes up to interfere with our routine, then it falls apart. Gotta stay on it and stay strong! Invariably the free time is electronics.

  2. Jen Report

    I agree in general, however…the school has issued netbooks to all students. He has to have this with him all day and is to most of his homework on it. This has made it very difficult to manage ‘screen time.’ Also, as much as dislike having a screen in front of me as much as I do, nowdays even the good stuff is online such as news, books, etc. An article with more real life examples would be helpful.

  3. DrDLevy Report

    I do see the irony in reading this article on my laptop (and then sharing it on Twitter) but at least I’m doing that on work time only! Love the sentiment of this artile – let’s foster and encourage interaction, social skills, eye contact and connection rather than showing kids how to push buttons really fast and update their friends every few seconds.

  4. mytwocents Report

    While I agree with the gist of the article, I do have to contend a few points. No cell phones until kids are 16 *sounds* good, but there is always an exception to the rule. For instance, in my case, my husband and I are going thru a divorce. My husband and I share parenting of the kids, one week at his place, one at mine. Unfortunately, during the weeks at his house, he choses not to let them use his cell phone to call me. They don’t have a landline. So I got them cell phones so that they could communicate with me during the week they’re with their dad. Okay, so that’s the first point on which we diverge. The second would be about not allowing TV after dinner. Isn’t that when it’s the *most* appropriate time? I want my boys to be outside – if the weather permits – while there is still daylight to play in. I certainly don’t want them spending the precious hours between when they get out of school and when they have to come in for dinner and do schoolwork to be crammed with watching TV – in fact, my rule is just the opposite – no electronacs of *any* kind before dark. In the summer, when the days are so much longer, there’s a little give time on that, but then again, they’re not stuck behind a desk 7 hours a day during the summer, either. Anyway, I hate to be the one person who has something seemingly negative to say, but I’m just describing the situation I’m in, and saying that maybe the above article is more a guideline than an absolute must.

  5. Never A Dull Moment Report

    Thanks for bringing this into the conversation. I believe children need to learn both the ability to manage all this media and the ability to turn it all off and enjoy unplugged life. We have 26 hours a week totally unplugged from Friday at sundown to Saturday night. The rest of the time we attempt to do with electronics what we attempt to teach with everything: moderation.

  6. nick Report

    This makes so much sense. I think is a great habit to be teaching children as well anyways. When they get older and want to start a business or do something that requires true concentration all the distractions of media and cell phones and all these boxes and screens really hinders a persons progress towards anything! Whether its making music, studying, or even spending time with family and friends. All these things should be used as TOOLs instead of entertainment. If anything, more like a 10/90 kind of thing.

    It seems like nowadays its life that is passing people by while they zone out into a zombie like state.

  7. jennybgood Report

    I completely agree. I have two boys, 13 & 3. They are both total video game addicts. I take 100% responsibility for them playing too much. My older son was an only child; and he started with his dad. Now, all the kids are playing. I think if someone did more to shame it publicly, make it socially taboo; more families would stop. I know parents see it as harmless, but not when its all consuming. Any ideas on how to regulate it? I always have to let them play or take it away…PS3 & Wii in maine.

  8. Melody Report

    I wholeheartedly agree with you! For my household, it would unfortunately, bring about world war III. Unfortunately, without significant change in the environment and essential structure through routine we are a sinking ship :(.



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