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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 for attention problems, anxiety, and depression
  • Raise your child's risk for gaining too much weight (obesity)

Screen time increases your child's risk for 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.

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.

References

Baum RA. Positive parenting and support. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 19.

Gahagan S. Overweight and obesity. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 60.

Strasburger VC, Jordan AB, Donnerstein E. Health effects of media on children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2010;125(4):756-767. PMID: 20194281 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20194281.

Text only

  • Childhood obesity

    Childhood obesity

    Animation

  •  

    Childhood obesity - Animation

    You may have heard of the childhood obesity epidemic. But is it real? And if it is real, how important is it? And the answer is yes, it's very real. Up until about 1988, kids' weights in the United States were pretty constant over the years. But since 1988, they've been skyrocketing. And that's important for a few reasons. One of them is that what ever our weight is today, people tend to gain weight gradually over time. So if you're already overweight as a child that sets you up to be really overweight as an adult. And all the more so as a child because when kids, before puberty especially, are putting on extra weight, they tend to make new fat cells. Where as adults, when they're getting overweight, tend to have the fat cells they already have get larger. People who make more fat cells during childhood find it easier to gain even more weight as an adult and harder to lose weight. So kids are setting habits in their metabolism and even the structure of their bodies as a child. Childhood obesity is a big problem. But it's not just because of the way fat looks. It's a health problem as well. In fact a ticking time bomb. When I started in pediatrics not that long ago, it was rare to see some of the common conditions of middle age in children. Things like high blood pressure, or abnormal blood sugar, waist size over 40 inches, abnormal cholesterol. Those things were really rare in kids. But in a recent study, about two-thirds of American high schools students already had at least one of those. Two-thirds. They use to call something juvenile diabetes and there was adult onset diabetes, the kind that you get often from being overweight. Well now, what use to be adult onset diabetes, type 2 diabetes, is more common by age 9 because of the obesity epidemic. It is a ticking time bomb. The good news is that it's never easier than today to start to make a difference in a child's life.

  • Childhood obesity

    Animation

  •  

    Childhood obesity - Animation

    You may have heard of the childhood obesity epidemic. But is it real? And if it is real, how important is it? And the answer is yes, it's very real. Up until about 1988, kids' weights in the United States were pretty constant over the years. But since 1988, they've been skyrocketing. And that's important for a few reasons. One of them is that what ever our weight is today, people tend to gain weight gradually over time. So if you're already overweight as a child that sets you up to be really overweight as an adult. And all the more so as a child because when kids, before puberty especially, are putting on extra weight, they tend to make new fat cells. Where as adults, when they're getting overweight, tend to have the fat cells they already have get larger. People who make more fat cells during childhood find it easier to gain even more weight as an adult and harder to lose weight. So kids are setting habits in their metabolism and even the structure of their bodies as a child. Childhood obesity is a big problem. But it's not just because of the way fat looks. It's a health problem as well. In fact a ticking time bomb. When I started in pediatrics not that long ago, it was rare to see some of the common conditions of middle age in children. Things like high blood pressure, or abnormal blood sugar, waist size over 40 inches, abnormal cholesterol. Those things were really rare in kids. But in a recent study, about two-thirds of American high schools students already had at least one of those. Two-thirds. They use to call something juvenile diabetes and there was adult onset diabetes, the kind that you get often from being overweight. Well now, what use to be adult onset diabetes, type 2 diabetes, is more common by age 9 because of the obesity epidemic. It is a ticking time bomb. The good news is that it's never easier than today to start to make a difference in a child's life.

    Self Care

     

     

    Review Date: 5/17/2019

    Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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