Kids Unplugged

By Jo Ellen Shield, MED RD LD
Mary Mullen, MS, RD
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March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.

Whether your child is in preschool or high school, one thing is for certain — it is time for you to seize the remote and take control. Reducing the amount of time your child or teen spends with media will have a positive impact on his or her weight — even if eating habits do not otherwise change. In studies, a 10-day "turn-off" period followed by a seven-hour weekly limit on screen time seems to help kids decrease their body mass index and body fat.

Here are a few pointers to help you disconnect your child or teen from the screen:

  • Take the media out of the bedroom.
    Today, 71 percent of all kids ages 8 to 18 years have their own TVs in their rooms. In addition, 50 percent have a video game player or cable TV, and 30 percent have a computer and Internet access in their bedrooms. Kids with a TV in their bedroom watch about 1½ hours more a day than kids who don't have one in their bedroom.
  • Eat electronic-free meals.
    Make it a family rule to turn off the TV while eating and make sure that everybody docks their cellphones so you can talk with each other.
  • Try a weekday ban.
    Record favorite weekday shows and save TV time for weekends. Watch shows as a family and fast-forward through the commercials. Remember, too, that your goal is to limit screen time to less than two hours a day — even on weekends!
  • Pass a family screen time policy.
    As a family, discuss ways to cut back on recreation screen time. Ask the kids to come up with reasonable limits; as parents, you should do the same. Then write up a a contract and have everybody sign it. If the family reaches the goal, reward yourselves with a physical activity you can all enjoy, like a trip to a museum or local playground.
  • Enjoy an action packed evening.
    After dinner, resist the urge to watch TV. Take the dog for a walk; go for a family bike ride; play outdoor games like red rover, tag, duck-duck-goose or hide-and-seek; or play active indoor games like charades, Twister and hot potato.
  • Turn off Saturday morning cartoons.
    Take kids to the local park, recreation center or health club. Play a game of basketball, let them climb on the monkey bars, or sign them up for swimming lessons.
  • Get up and dance.
    Take the headphones off, turn up the music, and have a family dance contest. Can anybody do the moonwalk or the worm?
  • Hang out with friends.
    Instead of communicating by computer or cellphones, encourage older kids to get together with their friends and do something fun like walk around the mall, go sledding, or play a pick-up game of soccer. For younger kids, invite a friend over and encourage active forms of play instead of watching TV or playing video games.
  • Play interactive video games.
    Invest in or rent video games that require kids to get up and move their arms and legs — no sitting allowed.
  • Make screen time an active time.
    When kids do watch TV, prevent them from being a slouch on the couch. Have a contest to see who can do the most push-ups or jumping jacks during a commercial break. Older kids can stretch, do yoga, or lift weights while watching TV.

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