Summer Perfect Time to Cut Back on Screen Time, Set Healthy Habits

Summer – that time of the year when the weather is perfect to head outside and go for a walk, ride your bike, play a game or just relax. But unfortunately too many children spend summer (and the rest of the year too if we’re being honest) sitting in front of a computer screen. Whether it’s watching traditional TV, playing a handheld video game or sitting in front of a computer playing a game or checking their friend’s Facebook status, children and teens are staying indoors and not getting much physical activity.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of 2 get no screen time and that those over the age of 2 should only have one to two hours of recreational screen time daily. According to one statistic I found, U.S. kids watch an average of four hours of TV a day – that doesn’t include time spent in front of other kinds of screens, such as handheld devices and computers. You may be wondering, why is watching TV bad? Well, for one thing, if a child just sits there watching TV he’s not getting physical activity. Studies have also shown that children who are obese tend to watch more TV than those who don’t. In addition, playing too many video games may interfere with relationships since the child sits alone rather than playing ball with a sibling or friend.

So how can we get our kids to unplug? Here are some tips to help get your child away from the TV and video games:

  • Set a limit and stick to it. Use a timer and let your child know that when it goes off, the TV or video game goes off. If they don’t respond, time will be subtracted from the next day. To make it easier on your kids, make sure your home is full of other non-screen entertainment such as books, puzzles, board games and more so you have a ready answer when they say “I’m bored.”
  • Keep TVs out of kids’ bedrooms and turn off the TV during meals. Save the TV for when that’s the only activity going on – you don’t need it as background noise.
  • Only allow TV and video games after they’ve completed chores, done their homework or some other activity.
  • Come up with a family TV schedule that determines when you’ll watch TV that week and what shows are “can’t miss.” Make every effort to watch TV with your child so you know what they are viewing and can use what they’re seeing as fodder for future conversations.
  • Set a good example and limit your own screen time.

Don’t get me wrong: television, handheld video games and personal computers all have their place, but like a lot of things in life, you need to use them in moderation. Too much screen time for your child (and you) can lead to weight gain, which can lead to a whole host of health problems, including high blood pressure and diabetes. So please be proactive this summer and get off the couch. It will be much easier to make this lifestyle change now when the weather is beautiful than in the middle of winter.

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.