If your family is like most Americans, you and your children spend a lot of time looking at screens – watching TV to unwind, checking social media, using a computer at work, playing video games, etc. In fact, most people spend 7-11 hours a day viewing various screens. Some of those activities are necessary, like for work or homework. But a lot of our screen time is for pleasure and is taking a toll on our health.
We’re generally inactive, sitting or lounging, while viewing screens. Snacking while watching movies is on autopilot, causing overeating of generally unhealthy options like chips. The allure of just one more episode overrides our motivation to spend time cooking healthy meals at home. Kids would rather play video games all evening than play spades for money outside. The action-packed content and light from screens disrupt our sleep. As a result, our screen time has increased while our physical activity and sleep quality have decreased, which contributes to overweight and obesity.
So what can we do to change our screen habits?
- Set limits on screen time. 1 hour is a good target for kids and adults.
- No screens 1 hour before bedtime. Try reading a book, listening to a podcast, talking to your family, or playing board games instead.
- Remove devices from bedrooms, or at least before bed. Having a TV in their bedroom is associated with childhood obesity.
- Make meal times screen-free. Turn off the TV and put away the phones. Enjoy each other’s company and bond as a family.
- Find alternatives to technology for entertainment or to fight boredom. Take up a new hobby, like drawing, coloring, or painting. Read a book. Practice mindfulness instead of scrolling through your phone when waiting in line. Engage with your kids instead of relying on the technology babysitter.
- Turn off televisions and other devices when not in use. Listen to music instead if you like having the noise in the background.
- Create a family media plan. Work together to set limits on what level of media and screen time is right for your family. Make an action plan to move from your current habits to your goals.
Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood has some great resources to help you get started on their Screen-Free Week website. This is another helpful handout with tips to replace screen time with healthier habits. I’d love to hear your suggestions for alternative activities in place of screen time. My personal goal is to read for at least 30 minutes instead of watching TV right while lying in bed. What changes do you think will help your family develop a healthier relationship with screens?