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Screen time should be active time

August 18, 2006|by LYNN F. LITTLE

It's been repeated many times: Many Americans are overweight. Now obesity is creeping into childhood, affecting about 20 percent of children in the United States. Heart disease, diabetes and other problems connected with obesity used to be adult medical concerns; however, with the increase in obesity in children, these medical problems are now a childhood concern.

One big contributor to the childhood obesity trend is the increase in screen time. The average child today watches four or more hours a day of television. Since nearly half (48 percent) of all families with children have all four of the latest media staples - TV, DVD, video game equipment and computer - the likelihood is that a lot of time is spent sitting in front of a screen.

How can you minimize screen time without wreaking havoc in your home? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests finding fun, positive activities that children enjoy and smartly managing their screen time. Here are some things you can do:

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· It's all about balance. Talk to your child about the importance of balancing screen time against active time. Phrase your suggestions in a positive, rather than a disciplinary tone.

· The parent makes the rules. If necessary, set a limit on the amount of screen time each child can have and be consistent. If your rule is to log no more than two hours a day of screen time (a recommendation from AAP), be certain that's what happens. Consider using an alarm clock or timer in case you or your child loses track of time.

· Relocate the television and/or computer. Keep the television or the computer out of your child's bedroom. If it's already there, remove it. It's difficult to monitor screen time when your child is isolated from the rest of the family. Turn off the TV at meal time. Meal time is family time and research has shown that families who eat together eat healthier meals. Without the interference of the television, it can be fun to have family conversations and share the day's happenings.

· Be a positive role model. If you enjoy hours of screen time yourself, it's going to be hard to convince your child about the importance of limiting screen time. Kids love spending time with their parents, and screen time interferes with that special time together.

· Media influences. Have you ever thought about the negative influence television commercials and pop-up ads on computers can have on food choices? Explain that it's only a sales pitch to buy that product.

· Give other options. Watching TV can become a habit for your child. Help your child find other fun things to do with his/her time such as reading; learning a hobby, a sport, an instrument or an art; or spending time with friends or neighbors.

· Get active. Another fun thing you can do with your child is use the time during commercials to get active. Do jumping jacks or toe touches to help get the wiggles out of your kids and help them burn calories, too. Help them understand why it's not a good idea to be a couch potato.

· Monitor. There are some simple things you can do to minimize screen time in your home. Go to this Web site and print off a screen log: www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/wecan/downloads/screen-time-log.pdf. You can request a copy of the screen-time log by sending an e-mail to LLittle@umd.edu - putting "screen time log" in the subject box. Post the screen log where all family members can keep track of their screen time. Once you know how much time your family members spend watching TV or DVDs, playing video games and using it for surfing the Internet, you can decide what steps to take next - aiming for less than two hours per day for each child.

Remember that all the time spent in front of a screen is potential time that could be invested in physical activity. For more ideas and ways to help your children become more physically active, you can visit www.aap.org/healthtopics/physact.cfm and www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/wecan and click on parent/child activities.

If you would like a printed copy of the screen-time log, send a self-addressed, stamped (39 cents) business-size envelope to Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County Office, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. Mark the envelope, "Screen."




Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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