About one third of children watch more than the daily two hours of TV recommended by pediatricians, but parents often wince at the battles they face in prying children away from the tube. Here's help.
Children and teenagers who say their parents had rules about how much time they could spend watching TV or playing video games were much more likely to stay within the recommended limits for screen time, according to a new study in Pediatrics. The study, conducted by researchers at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and several universities, asked 7,415 children and teens ages 9 to 15 about their TV and computer habits. They found evidence that two simple tactics work: setting family rules for screen time and getting kids moving, whether through organized sports or free-time play.
Most of the children polled—60.7 percent—said they had no organized physical activity in a week; no gym class, no after-school pick-up games, and no team sports. That's a lot of couch potatoes! There's plenty of evidence that active play makes children healthier, happier, and better students. No less a personage than Michelle Obama is pushing for children to get up and move. The simplest way to encourage more activity is to join in yourself. You could even transform the TV from a source of sloth into an exercise machine, with addictive video games like Dance Dance Revolution.
Although other studies have pointed out that parents need to set limits on TV time, this time around the researchers asked parents and children how often each agreed there were rules. Fewer than half of parents said they always or often had limits on TV time, and just 37 percent of kids said they had well-enforced rules. The bottom line: consistency counts.
We're not big TV watchers in my family, but I can see how a family discussion about the two-hour-a-day limit, and setting that as the family baseline, would be good. And since I'll always pick reading over running, I've found that having organized activities, like swim team or play dates that involve a sport, go a long way toward getting my family out the door and moving.