Limiting Children's Screen Time is Doable

It’s no secret kids (and adults) spend way too much time in front of a screen. Whether it’s a TV, handheld device, or gaming system, a recent study found that children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of seven hours a day in front of some kind of screen. That’s way above the two hours recommended from the American Academy of Pediatrics (kids under age 2 should stay away from all kinds of screens.)

Why is all that screen time bad? Besides the obvious – kids who spend a lot of time sitting in front of a screen are more likely to be overweight due to mindless eating and not getting enough exercise – it also interferes with their sleep and schoolwork.

The warmer spring weather is a great time to help your kids break their screen habits. I admit it’s not easy to do, but it can be done. Here are some ideas to help your kids (and you) cut the cord:

Set a daily time limit and stick to it. Tell your kids they can only have a total number of minutes in front of all screens and it’s up to them on how they want to spend it. If they blow it all on their gaming system, then they can’t watch their favorite TV show.

  • Keep screens out of your kids’ bedrooms. This is about more than TVs; it’s also about handheld devices. Having the devices close at hand makes it more tempting to stay up late texting their friends. Have kids deposit all of their electronic devices in a central location after a certain time every evening.

  • Plan family outings. Our area is filled with great nature centers and parks. Get out and enjoy them. See how many you can visit this year. Ask the kids what they’re interested in trying out, whether it’s the Ledgeview caves, High Cliff State Park, or one of the area’s many bike trails.

  • Establish daily unplugged time. Set aside times daily when everyone in the family unplugs from their devices. The hour before bed and the dinner hour are ideal times to do this.

  • Limit your own screen time. If you tell your kids they spend too much time with their iPad, but you’re on it constantly, you’re sending mixed messages. Spend more time together as a family going for walks, playing games, or other activities that don’t require an electronic device. You’ll all benefit.

  • Keep at it. If there’s a day when the kids go over their allotted time, don’t give up. Try again the next day. Just like with other healthy habits, such as eating better and exercising more, it will take some effort, but the reward – a healthier child is worth it.

Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert. He can be reached at scott.schuldes@thedacare.org.