2nd Opinion: “Screen Time”
By Dr. David Pommer for Playdate magazine
OK, I confess. I have not been a perfect role model about “screen time” with my patients and my family. But I think this is important to discuss as summer comes to a close and many of us retreat indoors.
What is screen time? The American Academy of Family Physicians defines this term as “watching television or DVDs, playing video or computer games and surfing the Internet.” A few years ago with patients, I would primarily ask about TV and video games, but now I need to inquire about cellphone screen time as well. As I will detail below, more screen time correlates with worse health.
Let’s take a quick self-assessment to see if this may be an issue with your family.
1) Do you use television as a baby sitter so you can get other things done at home?
2) Have you misplaced your library card months ago? … Or do you first check out the video section at your local library?
3) Do your children feel that happiness comes at Redbox?
4) Have you heard your child repeat a phrase in conversation that they likely heard from TV (for example, when I heard my son state “it’s fun for the whole family” when he wanted my wife and I to buy something, I knew he had been sitting too long in front of the boob tube).
If you answered “yes” to any of the above, keep reading.
According to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study, the average child spends 7 1/2 hours per day in front of a screen. Another study broke this amount into about four or more hours of TV, videos and/or DVDs, more than one hour of computer time, and almost one hour of video games. Two out of three children ages 8-18 have a TV in their bedroom. And those kids who have a TV in their room watch almost 1½ hours more television per day than those who do not.
The consequences of this excessive screen time are more sobering.
The more time kids spend in front of a screen, the higher their risk of obesity. Obesity rates are lowest in children who have less than one hour of screen time per day, while they are highest in kids with greater than four hours per day. Screen time may also negatively affect body image and school performance and may correlate with increased violent behavior.
What is our remedy?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to no more than one to two hours of “quality programming” per day. If there is a TV in a child’s room, I would recommend removing it. Use parental controls on your computer so a child has a set limit before he or she is logged off. Establish a “token economy” where kids need to earn their 1-2 hours by chores or reading earlier in the day. Though your children will not thank you now, hopefully their brains and waistlines will thank you in years to come.
David Pommer, M.D., is a family physician at Selah Family Medicine. He is a graduate of Whitworth University and the University of Washington School of Medicine. He is married with three children.
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