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Time to Unplug

Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN

Reviewers: Academy Nutrition Information Services Team

Published: October 23, 2017

Reviewed: December 11, 2023

Family looking at devices - Time to Unplug!

Would you believe that kids between 13 to 18 years old spend an average of eight and a half hours per day on screen time for entertainment alone? That includes screens on computers, TVs, tablets, phones and gaming systems. That's more time than some kids spend with their parents! Children younger than 1 are logging screen time, too, with those from 0 to 8 years old averaging two and a half hours of media use per day.

Chances are your kids are in front of screens more than you think. Do they watch a show while getting dressed? How about while eating breakfast or waiting for the bus? Do they play video games or use a tablet before dinner? Ask your kids about this. What you learn might be surprising.

Reducing the amount of time your child spends with media will have a positive lifestyle impact — even if eating habits do not otherwise change. Try some of these pointers to help disconnect your child from the screen:

  1. Remove media from the bedroom. And turn screens off 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime.
  2. Enjoy electronic-free meals. Make it a family rule to turn off the TV while eating and ensure everybody puts away their cellphones so you can focus on each other. Families that eat dinner together more often have better nutrient intake and health outcomes and kids tend to have better academic performance.
  3. Save TV for weekends. While you watch shows as a family on the weekend, fast-forward through commercials. Sit down with your kids and help them select specific shows they'll watch, giving them some control and helping them make decisions. Watch with them when you can. Remember to limit screen time on weekends, too.
  4. Create a family screen time policy. As a family, discuss ways to cut back on recreational screen time. Ask the kids to come up with reasonable limits; as parents, you should do the same. Then write up a contract and have everybody sign it. If the family reaches the goal, reward yourselves with a physical activity you all can enjoy, such as walking around a museum or playing at a local park.
  5. 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 such as red rover, tag or duck-duck-goose; or play an indoor game such as charades, hide-and-seek or a board game.
  6. 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 or organized team sports.
  7. Get up and dance. Take off the headphones, turn up the music, and have a family dance contest. Can anybody do the moonwalk, running man or floss?
  8. Hang out with friends. Instead of communicating by computer or cellphones, encourage older kids to get together with their friends and do something fun such as walk around the mall, go sledding or play a pickup game of soccer. For younger kids, invite a friend over and encourage active forms of play instead of watching TV or playing video games.
  9. 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.
  10. 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, practice yoga or lift weights while watching TV.

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