Although watching TV or playing computer games can be educational, it's easy to overdo it. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use by children younger than age two and recommends limiting older children's screen time to no more than one or two hours a day. Need convincing? Too much screen time has been linked to obesity, irregular sleep, behavioral problems, impaired academic performance, violence and less time for active play.
How to limit screen time
Your children may be racking up more screen time than you realize. Start monitoring it, and talk to them about the importance of sitting less and moving more. Also, explain screen-time rules — and the consequences of breaking them. In the meantime, take simple steps to reduce screen time. For example:
- Eliminate background TV. If the TV is turned on — even if it's just in the background — it's likely to draw your children's attention. If you're not actively watching a show, turn off the TV.
- Keep TVs and computers out of the bedrooms. Children who have TVs in their bedrooms watch more TV than children who don't have TVs in their bedrooms. Monitor your kids’ screen time and the websites they are visiting by keeping TVs and computers in a common area of your home.
- Don't eat in front of the TV. Allowing your children to eat or snack in front of the TV increases the time they are passively sitting rather than moving. The habit also encourages mindless munching, which can lead to weight gain.
- Set school-day rules. Most children have limited free time during the school week. Don't let your kids spend all of it in front of a screen. Also, avoid using screen time as a reward or punishment. This can make television shows or computer games seem even more important to your children.
- Talk to your children's caregivers. Encourage other adults in your kids’ lives to also limit screen time for them.
- Suggest other activities. Rather than relying on screen time for entertainment, help your children find other things to do, such as reading, playing a sport, helping with cooking or trying a board game.
- Set a good example. Be a good role model by limiting the time you spend “plugged in.”
- Unplug it. If this issue is becoming a source of tension in your family, unplug the TV, turn off the computer or put away the smartphones or video games for a while. You might designate one day a week or month as a screen-free day for the whole family. To prevent unauthorized TV viewing, put a lock on your TV's electrical plug.
Become an active participant
Make screen time as engaging as possible:
- Plan what your kids view. Instead of flipping through channels, seek quality videos or programming. Consider using parental-control settings on your TV and computers. Preview video games and smartphone applications before allowing your children to play with them.
- Watch with your children. Whenever possible, watch programs together — and talk about what you see, such as family values, violence or drug abuse. If you see a junk-food ad, explain that just because it's on TV doesn't mean it's good for you.
- Record programs and watch them later. This will allow you to fast-forward through commercials selling toys, junk food and other products. When watching live programs, use the mute button during commercials.
- Encourage active screen time. Have your kids stretch or do yoga while watching a show. Challenge your family to see who can do the most jumping jacks during a commercial break. Choose video games that encourage physical activity.
It can be difficult to start limiting the time your children spend in front of a screen, but it's worth the effort. By creating new household rules and steadily making small changes in your kids’ routines, you can curb screen time and its unhealthy effects.