Limiting Screen Time
On average, American kids spend about five hours per day using various screen media for entertainment, including television, video games, and the Internet. This means that over the course of a year they spend more time in front of a screen than in school. In fact, 43 percent of children under the age of two are daily TV watchers.
These figures stand in stark contrast to the recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Kaiser Permanente that no child should have more than one or two hours of screen time per day, and children under two should have none at all. This recommendation of no electronic media for children 0-2 even applies to TV shows, DVDs, and computer games that have supposedly been designed for very young children.
Screen Time's Toll On Our Kids' Health
Children who watch more than five hours of TV per day are more than four times as likely to be overweight, compared to children who watch less than two hours per day. According to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overweight children have an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, joint problems, depression, menstrual irregularities, and other health problems.
Kids who watch more TV are also more likely to eat the foods they see advertised on commercials, many of which are for junk foods. Commercial television programs aimed at children include an average of more than one food advertisement every five minutes. One study estimates that the average American child watches 10,000 food commercials per year. In addition, free Internet game sites are a new vehicle for advertising to children, especially for food items.
Equally troubling, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and other leading health organizations have said that children's exposure to violent media is a risk factor for their being violent in real life. Moreover, many studies have also shown a relationship between hours watched and lower academic achievement, and alcohol and tobacco abuse.
Limiting Screen Time Benefits the Whole Family
The growing array of screens in childrens' lives including TV, video and computer games, DVDs, the Internet, videos shown in the car, and even cell phone text messaging, games and shows, are competing with the amount of time spent in active and imaginative play, reading, or family interaction.
"The wonderful thing about reducing screen time -- or turning the TV off altogether -- is that healthy children will almost automatically become more physically active and personally interactive," says Kaiser Permanente pediatrician and pediatric clinical lead for the Care Management Instiute, Phil Wu, MD. "Without the mind-numbing effect of too many hours of screen time, their natural desire to be up and around doing creative and interactive things will surface. As a family, you can tap into that creativity and increase everyone's activity level."
Tips for Reducing Screen Time
- Turn off the TV during meals, which encourages everyone to eat and talk together.
- Keep computers, TVs, and video game consoles out of kid's bedrooms.
- Don't use screen time as a reward.
- Designate certain days of the week as screen-free days.
What You Can Do Instead
- Exercise as a family by taking walks, riding bikes, or playing sports or active games together.
- Do something active for at least 60 minutes each day.
- Set up screen free play dates.
- Read a book, listen to music, or encourage your kids to write a story, draw, or create an art project, if you need some quiet down-time.
If you have a toddler or preschooler: Keep your little one busy, safe, and happy when you are trying to get something done. Here are alternatives to screen time when you're preparing meals and for other occasions:
- Set up a kitchen play station with a spoon and small bowl, plastic containers or other safe household materials or toys.
- Get kids three and older to help (set the table, tear lettuce for salad, or decorate place cards).
- Engage an older sibling or neighbor to keep the kids safely amused.
- Recorded books on tape or CD (often available from libraries) are a great alternative when you can't do the reading yourself.
- Young children can be marvelously creative with some tape or glue and commonly available recycled household materials such as toilet paper tubes, cereal cartons, fabric scraps (or worn-out clothes), egg cartons, yogurt containers, and lids.
Source: Kaiser Permanente Healthy Kids Watch Less TV Coalition
Reviewed by: Phil Wu, MD and Richard Freed, PhD, March 2008