Limit your child's screen time with these 3 tips

07.22.14 |

Limiting your child's screen time can positively affect their health and yours.

I’ve talked before about “screen time,” which is defined as any period of time in which an activity is performed in front of a screen, such as watching TV, playing video games, noodling on a smart phone, etc.
Previously, I mentioned a study published in JAMA Pediatrics which highlighted a correlation between children’s time spent in front of a screen and an increasing likelihood of poor well-being.

We recognized the problem, but recent surveys conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (via HealthDay) show that we did little to actually stop this troubling trend.

According to the surveys’ results, 75 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 15 watch at least two hours of television per day, while 15 percent log at least four hours in front of the TV daily!

Even worse, the study didn’t account for smart phone usage, which would have undoubtedly inflated the numbers even more.

Tips to steer children away from the screen

Use these tips to help reverse course and steer your children away from the screen and back to the world of healthy habits.

Keep in mind: You don’t have to completely eliminate any activities involving a screen! In moderation, video games and television can benefit your child and inspire creativity and learning. These suggestions are aimed to trim down on the excess viewing, and you’ll find some family-friendly, easy to implement strategies here that can help kick-start a healthy life for you and your children.

  • Have a family dinner—away from the television. Eating dinner in front of the TV is nice and relaxing, but it also aids in the development of unhealthy habits. When your children eat their meal in front of the TV screen, they can become sucked in to whatever show or movie is playing that night. When the meal is finished, they may continue watching. After all, it’s unlikely that you finish your meal right at the conclusion of an episode of your favorite show, so you have to see what happens at the end, right?

    With an online streaming service like Netflix, it’s even easier to binge watch something. When one episode ends, Netflix auto-plays the next offering, and soon you’re two or three hours deep into a show you didn’t even intend to watch that night.

    Avoid this by having family dinners at the table, far away from the beckoning gleam of the TV screen. Besides helping to cut back on screen time, a family dinner offers the perfect opportunity to connect with your loved ones and to strengthen relationships simply by chatting about your day.

  • Find a sport or hobby your child is interested in. Instead of winding down the day with a three-hour Call of Duty session, your child might enjoy a pickup game of basketball, a good book, or a family-friendly board game.

    Everyone is different, of course, but the idea here is that you help your child find something he or she truly enjoys to do, and you help them become involved in that field. Sports, in particular, provide a great source of exercise and activity while also allowing your child to form new friendships with teammates and coaches.

    Once your child finds the sport or hobby he or she loves, you’ll probably notice a drastic reduction in the amount of time spent in front of the TV or the computer!

  • Set Limits and Enforce Them. I list this as the last option on purpose. If you can’t organically cut back on your child’s screen time, you may have to enforce limitations. Treat this as you would wearing a seat belt—you can describe why cutting back screen time is important but, ultimately, it’s not up for debate.

    See how much screen time your child averages in a given week and then create a plan for gradually reducing this figure. You don’t want to take him or her from four hours or more per day down to 30 minutes per day, but you can cut back a half hour at a time until they’ve reached a healthy, reasonable amount of daily screen time.

This will create health in their lives and inspire them to develop new social skills and to explore other areas of life they may have been previously unaware of while wrapped inside the familiar cocoon of their screens.

Have you used any of these tips with your children? What techniques have you found useful when limiting screen time?