This is part of my 12-part series entitled 12 Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child.
Put a Limit on Screen Time
Today, many school-aged children are savvy and able to navigate screen time independently. They can surf the web, program their mobile phone, set up the music system in the home, and operate the family TV. While that can be a huge help, there can be downsides to all that TV viewing and other screen time.
For one, children aren’t playing like they used to. They play with toys less frequently, head outside less and less, and literally spend more time letting their fingers do the walking than their arms and legs.
It’s true we live in a technological world, and this is obvious in our children. Advertisements on video and computer games (called advergames) and advertisements on educational websites and games (called advercations) are omnipresent, luring children to the screen while silently molding their thoughts and beliefs about food and the world around them.
What Exactly is a Screen?
The term “screen” describes the variety of technological devices to which children are exposed to and use for general entertainment. Anything containing a screen–the TV, the Nintendo DS, the computer, the phone, the iTouch, the iPod, internet-based watches, and the like.
How Does Screen Time Influence a Child’s Health?
Researchers show a strong correlation with the number of hours spent watching TV to an increased prevalence of weight problems in children. If your child spends more than 2 hours in front of the TV per day, she is at greater risk for gaining extra weight. All that sitting time isn’t good for kids, or parents.
TV viewing and too much screen time may lead to overeating and a reduction in energy expenditure (or the amount of energy the body burns in a given day).
Additionally, the TV is a powerful distraction when it comes to eating sensible amounts. Have you ever watched a movie with a bowl of popcorn and consumed the entire bowl?
I have…and so have my kids.
It’s easy to forget or become involved in the show and lose track of your sense of fullness and satisfaction… and overeat.
Furthermore, sedentary behavior, or sit-down time, burns less energy than moving the body (activity).
It’s simple to see: too much TV and screen time may promote more sit-down time resulting in less overall physical activity and a greater possibility for overeating (if done while watching), which can create a scenario for unwanted or unhealthy weight gain.
As a mom, I totally recognize the value of screen time: learning about new stuff (Thank you Sesame Street!), and exploration of new cultures, ideas and geography. And yes, even a non-human babysitter and occupier of your child’s attention so you can get stuff done.
But to raise a healthy child, and establish healthy living habits for your family, you’ll need to take a good look at how screen time is used and how much is consumed. If you’re teetering over the two hour mark on a regular basis, I’ve got a few steps you can take to drop it down to a healthier part of your child’s life.
5 Steps to Curb your Child’s Screen Time:
Keep TV and other screens out of the bedroom
Children with TV’s in their bedroom watch a lot of TV! The presence of a TV in a child’s room is one of the leading indicators of excess screen time. Removing the TV and other screens will curtail the number of hours your child is inactive watching TV, playing video games, and laying on the bed listening to the iPod.
Limit all screen time
The recommendation for reasonable screen time is 2 hours per day maximum; homework-oriented computer time does not fall within these limitations. Each family has unique dynamics and demands on their time—consider parameters around screen time that are advantageous to your child. For example, during the school week, keep screen time focused on school work, projects, and educational endeavors.
Curb the Influence Early
Limits on screen time should begin as early as 5 years of age, and probably even earlier. This makes sense–toddlers and pre-schoolers are naturally curious, on the move creatures! When we use the TV or other screens to entertain them, we are training them to be sedentary.
Emphasize hands-on, active endeavors
Cultivate an attitude of “let’s do” rather than “let’s see,” or “let’s watch.” This is easier if you are an active parent yourself.
When my kids were younger, I scheduled outside activity every day (even in the freezing Boston winters). Mostly, it was going to the backyard to play or taking a walk. I believe that fresh air keeps the germs at bay, but more importantly, I wanted to make sure my kids went down for their naps and slept well at night. I think a child who is active during the day has an easier time falling and staying asleep.
And you know what? Being active and getting outside was good for me too! It helped me get out of the house, change the environment, and decompress from any motherly frustrations. (Raising four young kids is not for the impatient!) And, I know I was role modeling what I eventually wanted them to adopt: an active lifestyle.
Take Small Steps
Any modification and limit you can place around TV and screens will be an improvement! Be realistic with what you can tackle, without too much rebellion from your child. Some families do well with setting up a schedule for TV viewing, or a policy around shows during the school week. We had a no TV policy before school, for instance.
Our family still maintains a no cell phone policy at the dinner table, and when we go out for dinner, we stack them up and put them in the corner of the table.
Healthy Habits = Healthy Living
A reduction in screen viewing helps every member of the family and it provides an alternative: opportunity to get moving. Help your child let their feet do the walking, not their fingers. Help them have greater opportunities for movement and activity, rather than ample sit-down time.
In the end, too much screen time is counter-productive to healthy living.
How much screen time does your child get and is it affecting his or her health?
Want to check and see if you’re on a path to raising a nourished, healthy child? Check out my checklist!
Do you strive to raise a healthy child but feel like you’re spinning your wheels? Feel like every step forward results in two steps backward? Nourishing a healthy child isn’t easy! It is WAY more than getting a healthy meal on the table. My program, The Nourished Child Project can help!
It’s the nutrition education you never received as a parent! It’s the food system, feeding strategy and healthy habits you need to successfully raise a healthy child who grows up with healthy eating and living habits and a healthy relationship with food.
Think about how different nourishing your child would be if you had the blueprint you need to do it well!
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: December 6, 2017
Updated on: September 21, 2019