Reduce screen time to improve children’s health and development

Before you turn on the TV, computer, or other electronic device for your child, consider these facts:

Boy with his bike plays with sticks
  • Screen time is habit-forming. The more time children engage with screens, the harder time they have turning electronics off as they become older children.
  • Over 50% of advertisements accompanying children’s TV shows are about foods. Up to 98% of these promote foods that are high in fat, sugar, and/or sodium.
  • The early years are critical. Limiting exposure to television during the first 4 years of life may decrease children’s interest in it in later.
  • Excessive screen time has been linked to irregular sleep and delayed language acquisitionfor children under the age of 3, as well as increased early childhood aggression.
  • Children who spend less time watching television in their early years tend to do better in school. They also have a healthier diet and are more physically active.
  • Reducing screen time can help prevent childhood obesity. This in turn means significantly reduced risk for diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure at young ages.

How much screen time is too much?

Recreational screen time should be limited to 2 hours or less per day for children and adults. No screen time is recommended for infants and toddlers 2 years and younger.

The first two years of life are a critical time for brain development. TV and other electronic media can get in the way of exploring, playing, and interacting with parents and others, interrupting learning and healthy physical and social development.

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How can you encourage healthy viewing habits?

  • Role model, role model, role model. Don’t use the TV or computer excessively yourself. Let your kids see you turn off the TV, put down your smart phone, and turn to them for a fun activity.
  • Keep TVs, DVD players, video games, computers, and tablets out of your child’s bedroom. It’s too tempting.
  • Treat screen time as a privilege to be earned. Establish and enforce family viewing rules, such as screen time is allowed only after chores and homework are completed.
  • Make a list of fun activities that don’t involve screens. You can have a list for individual activities and another for family/group activities. Tack it to a bulletin board or stick it on the fridge where you can see it easily and add ideas when you think of them.
  • Make certain days or times screen-free. For example, no TV or video games on school nights, or “No TV Tuesday.”
  • Talk about changes in viewing habits in a positive way. Instead of saying, “Turn off the TV,” try, “Instead of watching TV right now, let’s walk to the park.” Offer fun options instead of just saying no.
  • When the TV is on, sit down and watch with your kids. Talk to them about the shows they like. Schedule shows to watch that the whole family will enjoy together.
  • Make alternatives available. Keep books, magazines, puzzles, and board games—as well as opportunities for physical play—easily accessible to children.

Adapted from Let’s Go!