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by Sine Thieme, a writer and mother of four who is new to South Africa and busy chronicling her experiences on her blog, Joburg Expat.

“If your children own the job of managing their TV time, they will quickly learn how to budget and maximize their fun.”

When we lived in the US, there was an annual campaign – a movement of sorts – called “National TV Turnoff Week.” I remember feeling that while turning TVs off for an entire week is a wonderful idea, there should be a plan for the rest of the year as well. But that’s the hard part. If you’re like me, you hate always saying no to “Mom, can I watch TV?”

We found a way around that by using a TV token system.

This is how it worked in our family: Every week, each of our children received one “TV token” to watch a 30-minute show. Everyone was allowed to watch TV when a token was used, giving our four kids a total of two hours of TV privileges for the week. Sounds impossible? Believe me, you will be amazed how well it works, especially if you start when your children are young. We used it for many years and now the kids are so well trained we don’t need tokens anymore.tv-turn-off

If your limit is higher than what we used, just issue more tokens, or include other habits you might want to limit, such as video and computer games (when my daughter was little, I even temporarily introduced “mommy, you get me dressed” tokens!). Or put them all into one category called “screen time.” Whichever way you choose, your kids will relish the freedom of watching TV or playing xBox games at a time of their choosing, and you’ll be happy to have enforced a limit. All without any debate other than “Do you have a token?”

The reason tokens work well is that they shift the responsibility of tracking TV time from you to your kids. Just be careful you don’t impose new conditions, such as “after you’ve cleaned your room” or you will quickly open the door to new debates. If your children own the job of managing their TV time, they will quickly learn how to budget and maximize their fun.

You might think it’s impossible to impose such limits on your family, but trust me, it works! And consider the payoff. You’ll be astonished how much your kids will read or how many puzzles and board games they will dig up in their newly-found spare time! So get out your scissors, cut some colorful circles, and you’ll find yourself eagerly awaiting the next “Mom, can I watch TV?”

Click here to find a list of related articles on zaparents.

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