Too much screen time? Get the facts, plus tips for cutting back

Excessive screen time is associated with increased risk for overweight and obesity, lower reading scores, and attention problems in school. But what constitutes “screen time” and what is excessive? 

Screen time leads to obesity

What is “screen time”?

Screen time includes time spent watching TV, playing video games, using a computer, and using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. “Recreational screen time” refers to use for non-educational purposes.

Consider this: as new technologies and devices have become popular, they haven’t replaced the old ones. For example, tablets and smart phones have not replaced television and video games—instead, they have actually added to the amount of time kids spend engaged with screens. 

Limit: 2 hours max

Experts recommend no more than two hours of recreational screen time per day for school-aged children, but on average, children in the U.S. are spending seven hours per day in front of screens. It’s easy for the hours to rack up throughout the day, and often we don’t even realize it. Work together with kids to track screen time using this Screen Time Challenge chart from Let’s Go. 

For children under age two, no screen time is advised. Children ages 2-5 can be limited to one hour of educational screen time per day. 

Family playing a board game

Tips for cutting back

  • Choose your words carefully. Avoid talking about reducing screen time in negative ways that sound like punishment. Instead of saying, “Turn off the TV,” or “You’ve watched too much TV already,” offer a fun option such as a physical activity. You can say, “Instead of watching TV right now, let’s go on a nature hike.”
  • Have a list of ideas ready. It may be hard to think of an alternate activity on the spot that will entice kids away from the screen, so plan ahead. Work together to brainstorm a list of activities that can replace screen time. Write ideas down and post them where they’ll be easy for everyone to find. Download My Favorite Things to Do Instead of Watching TV worksheet.
  • Remove the temptation. Do not allow TVs or computers in children’s bedrooms. In child care and school settings, remove televisions from the care/class room or cover it up with room dividers or a fabric barrier. 

For more tips and ideas, check out these downloads from our Resource Hub:

Adapted from Let’s Go! 

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Screen time is not only an issue at home. If you are a child care provider or youth service organization that provides care during out-of-school hours, you can assess your organization’s television/computer/digital device policies as well to help reduce kids’ cumulative total of screen time. Get sample policy statements, tips, and other tools.

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