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Screen time and children

"Screen time" is a term used for activities done in front of a screen, such as watching TV, working on a computer, or playing video games. Screen time is sedentary activity, meaning you are being physically inactive while sitting down. Very little energy is used during screen time.

Most American children spend about 3 hours a day watching TV. Added together, all types of screen time can total 5 to 7 hours a day.

Too much screen time can:

  • Make it hard for your child to sleep at night
  • Raise your child's risk of attention problems, anxiety, and depression
  • Raise your child's risk of gaining too much weight (obesity )

Screen time increases your child's risk of obesity because:

  • Sitting and watching a screen is time that is not spent being physically active.
  • TV commercials and other screen ads can lead to unhealthy food choices . Most of the time, the foods in ads that are aimed at kids are high in sugar, salt, or fats.
  • Children eat more when they are watching TV, especially if they see ads for food.

Computers can help kids with their schoolwork. But surfing the internet, spending too much time on Facebook, or watching YouTube videos is considered unhealthy screen time.

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Current screen time guidelines

Children under age 2 should have no screen time.

Limit screen time to 1 to 2 hours a day for children over age 2.

Despite what ads may say, videos that are aimed at very young children do not improve their development.

How to decrease screen time

Cutting down to 2 hours a day can be hard for some children because TV may be such a large part of their daily routines. But you can help your children by telling them how sedentary activities affect their overall health. Talk to them about things they can do to be healthier.

To decrease screen time:

  • Remove the TV or computer from your child's bedroom.
  • Do not allow TV watching during meals or homework.
  • Do not let your child eat while watching TV or using the computer.
  • Do not leave the TV on for background noise. Turn on the radio instead, or have no background noise.
  • Decide which programs to watch ahead of time. Turn off the TV when those programs are over.
  • Suggest other activities, such as family board games, puzzles, or going for a walk.
  • Keep a record of how much time is spent in front of a screen. Try to spend the same amount of time being active.
  • Be a good role model as a parent. Decrease your own screen time to 2 hours a day.
  • If it is hard not having the TV on, try using a sleep function so it turns off automatically.
  • Challenge your family to go 1 week without watching TV or doing other screen-time activities. Find things to do with your time that get you moving and burning energy.

Updated: 5/10/2013

Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pe diatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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