If you missed Screen-Free Week (formerly TV-Turnoff Week back when TV was the only screen available) last month, you’re probably not the only one. Whether or not you were too engrossed in your computer, smartphone, tablet, e-reader and TV to notice the event, most of us could use a little less screen time in our lives.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports children spend an average of seven hours each day in front of entertainment screens. Compare that with the AAP’s recommendation for no TV or screen time for children under two and just two hours a day for older children and it’s easy to see we may be creating a problem at a very early age.
Whether you’re a kid or an adult, all of that screen time can lead to attention issues, problems at school or work, sleep and eating disorders and obesity.
What should we do with all of that time? The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood suggests reading (you know, a book), daydreaming, exploring, enjoying nature and enjoying the company of family and friends. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends using that time to add more physical activity to your day – a good one-two punch to that obesity epidemic.
Parents need set a good example for their children (easier said than done, of course) and set rules that limit kids’ screen time. According to HHS, research by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation has shown it’s a challenge, but the rules have a significant impact.
In kids age 8 to 18:
- 28% said their parents set TV-watching rules
- 30% said their parents set rules about video game play
- 36% said their parents set rules about computer use
The same study revealed that when parents set any screen-time rules, their children’s media use was almost three hours lower per day.
So how can you get your family to cut down on screen time (whether it’s Screen-Free Week or not)? HHS’s Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition (We Can) program offers a list of ideas, including:
- Log screen time vs. active time: just knowing how much time you’re spending in front of a screen might be enough to encourage some changes. We Can even has a screen time log (PDF) to get you started.
- Provide other options: particularly if you have kids, prepare for the “but I’m bored!” response. Be ready with other (ideally active) options, like riding a bike, playing outside, or exploring a new hobby.
- Don’t use TV as a reward or punishment: if it’s used as either a treat or a disciplinary tool, kids will see TV (or screen-time in general) as more important. Be careful.
The key is to remember that you, as the parent, are in control.
If you’re not a parent, remember you’re still in control. Put down the screen and spend the time enjoying the rest of the world.