By Dr. Michael Rich
Director of the Center on Media and Child Health, Children’s Hospital Boston
Today more than ever, media use is a major, almost constant part of daily life. Years ago, most families had a television or a radio, but today, family time is being split amongst computers, video games, cell phones, iPods, television, and other types of media.
Most people think that watching television or surfing the Internet is a good way to relax at the end of a tough day. In reality, our overexposure to media does more harm than good—especially for our health. Studies have shown that children who spend a lot of time watching television are at increased risk for obesity, aggression, anxiety, and other health problems. As a parent, you can set rules to keep your children healthy and happy!
In my practice, I often talk to parents about how they can limit their child’s “screen time,” meaning how much time they spend in front of TV and computer screens, and even on their cell phones and iPods (which often have text messaging and game features). Limiting the amount of time spent watching television is especially important. I have three rules that I think are most important for families to follow:
- Do not put televisions in children’s bedrooms.
- Never eat in front of the television.
- Generally, allow no more than one to two hours a day for screen time for children over the age of 2. However, this screen time only kicks in if your child has received their daily exercise, had a good family meal, done their homework, and had their recommended amount of sleep.On school days, there is usually little time for your child to spend with their favorite electronics once these tasks are complete.
In today’s world, television isn’t the only form of media that can harm our health. Everywhere we turn, there are new forms of media popping up, and it is important to remind your kids that there are other things to do for fun. I have a few tips for parents who want to help limit the time their children spend with all these devices:
- It is okay, in fact necessary, to say ‘no’. Your child needs a parent, not a friend. Show your child you care by being able to say no to those things that may harm her health.
- Come up with a list of healthy alternatives to television, video games, and the computer. This list may include going for a walk, joining a school sports team, crafts, or checking out an event in your neighborhood. Check out our TV Alternatives page for activities your family can do near your home, and watch the Upcoming Events section of the site (you can find this on the bottom right side on any page of healthfamilyfun.org).
- If you are worried about sending your kids outside for exercise due to safety reasons, find safe alternatives such as after school programs or the Y. If your kids like video games, buy them active games that let them dance or jump around in the safety of your home.
- Practice what you preach! If you tell your kids to put their phones away during dinner, be sure your own phone doesn’t make an appearance at the table.
Limiting the amount of time your child spends with media will improve their health and their quality of life!
To read more about media and your child’s health or to ask a question related to the topic, visit my weekly column at www.askthemediatrician.org.