Summer vacation is just around the corner for school-age children and while we may reminisce about spending hours outdoors growing up during the summer, that’s unfortunately not the case for many of today’s kids. Some will spend hours glued to their electronic devices and watching TV. All of that screen time is not good for their health. Studies have shown children who spend a lot of time watching TV or playing their iPads or other electronic games have higher obesity rates and may have more sleep problems.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommendations in place regarding children and screen time. For those under the age of 2, the experts recommend no screen time at all since it may affect brain development. For those over the age of 2, only one to two hours a day is recommended. Between watching TV and playing electronic games, the average U.S. child spends five to seven hours a day in front of a screen, according to studies.
For our kids who are so plugged-in, cutting back is definitely a challenge, but it is doable. Start out by talking about why too much screen time isn’t good for them – discuss how the lack of activity can lead to weight gain and that it’s also important their brain has screen-free time before bed since that will help with the quality of their sleep.
The next step is formulating a plan. Set the amount of time your children can spend in front of a screen (either a TV or a gaming device, the choice is theirs) and then discuss how it will be monitored. (And yes, if they need the computer to do homework, that doesn’t count but keep an eye on their usage and that they are actually doing school-related work and not watching You Tube videos.) The kids can use all of their time at once or divide it up – you can give them that choice.
The next step is coming up with a plan for the “I’m bored” response that you’ll get when you tell the kids to turn off their devices. Make a list of different activities they can do whether it’s go outside and ride their bike, play ball, play a board game, read, play with a favorite toy – develop the list with your children. When the kids discuss being bored, take out the list and pick out an activity.
During summer when kids have so much free time, it’s easy for them to fall into a cycle of spending too much time in front of the screen. Try to plan ahead and look at different activities at the local libraries or parks that the children can participate in or check out day camps they can join.
It’s also important you embrace screen limits yourself. Telling your child to turn off the TV while you’re sitting there playing Candy Crush on your iPhone sends the wrong message. Join them outside for a bike ride or walk or offer to play a board game with them. If you model the behavior you want your children to embrace, the plan to limit their screen time will be more successful.
Limiting your children’s screen time may not be easy, but by taking these steps you can definitely improve their overall health.
Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.