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During the cold winter months, it can be challenging for kids to get the 60 minutes of active play they need every day. One way to help young people be active is to limit screen time. One way to help young people be active is to limit their screen time. Screen time includes TV and DVD viewing, video games, recreational computer use, internet surfing, and other electronic devices. Young children who spend a lot of time watching TV or playing video and computer games are less likely to be physically active in later childhood. They are also likely to eat foods that are less healthy, such as soft drinks and fried foods as well as more snacks, and may be more likely to become overweight.
There are different recommendations for daily screen time limits depending on the age of children and the quality of programs. Health experts recommend:
• For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting with relatives or friends.
• Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce screen media should choose high-quality programs, such as the content offered by Sesame Street and PBS, and watch them with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.
• For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should watch programs with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
• For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of getting enough sleep, physical activity and other behaviors that are important to health.
So how do you get started with setting screen time limits? Here are some strategies that might work for your family:
• Set a Good Example: You need to be a good role model and limit your screen time to no more than two hours per day, too. If your kids see you following your own rules, then they’ll be more likely to do the same.
• Log Screen Time vs. Active Time: Start tracking how much time your family spends in front of a screen, including things like TV- and DVD-watching, playing video games, and using the computer for something other than school or work. Then take a look at how much physical activity they get. That way you’ll get a sense of what changes need to be made. If you search for “Screen Time Charts” there are many available online. You can find one at flesny.org.
• Make Screen Time = Active Time: When you do spend time in front of the screen, do something active. Stretch, do yoga and/or lift weights. Or, challenge the family to see who can do the most push-ups, jumping jacks, or leg lifts during TV commercial breaks.
• Set Screen Time Limits: Create a house rule that limits screen time to two hours every day. More importantly, enforce the rule.
• Create Screen-free Bedrooms: Don’t put a TV or computer in your child's bedroom. Kids who have TVs in their room tend to watch about 1.5 hours more TV a day than those that don’t. Plus, it keeps them in their room instead of spending time with the rest of the family.
• Make Meal Time, Family Time: Turn off the TV during meals. Better yet, remove the TV from the eating area if you have one there. Family meals are a good time to talk to each other. Research shows that families who eat together tend to eat more nutritious meals. Make eating together a priority and schedule family meals at least two to three times a week.
• Provide Other Options: Watching TV can become a habit, making it easy to forget what else is out there. Give your kids ideas and/or alternatives, such as playing outside, getting a new hobby, or learning a sport.
Once you limit screen time, this will free up time for active family time. Try these ideas for making family time active time:
• Find the best times to be active with your family. It might be after dinner, or sometime on the weekend.
• Start small. Take a walk with your family, or do active chores together, like raking leaves or gardening.
• Start with what you know. Try dancing with your kids or playing ball together
• Find free or low cost programs that help your family move more. Try the local recreation center, a local park, or after school programs.
Limiting screen time for your family will free up time for you to get active together. What are you waiting for? It’s time to go out and play!!
For more ideas for limiting screen time and helping kids stay active this winter, please visit flesny.org!