Less time staring at a screen can help families | Family Matters

Smartphones and tablets appear to have staying power.

Smartphones and tablets appear to have staying power.

The Pew Research Center confirms that smartphone penetration has surpassed the 50 percent mark among mobile subscribers. Many others are routinely using tablets to access books, television shows, movies and magazines. In multi-screen homes, televisions are still king. According to a 2012 Nielsen report, the average American over the age of 2 spends more than 34 hours a week, or more than four hours per day, watching live television. Those findings should raise an eyebrow, as health experts warn that excessive screen time can be hazardous to one’s health.

A sedentary lifestyle spent in front of computers and video game consoles contributes to poor health. Of the leading industrialized countries, the United States has the highest obesity statistics and Canada is not far behind. Obesity can impact cholesterol, cardiovascular health, risk for type 2 diabetes and risk for stroke. Excessive screen time can lead to sleep and eating disorders, interfere with a person’s ability to focus and negatively affect a person’s performance at school or work. Getting a family active and reducing time spent in front of a screen can have profound effects, and reducing screen time doesn’t have to be difficult.

• Gradually implement changes. Families immersed in electronic devices can cut down on screen time slowly and over the course of several weeks rather than tuning out cold turkey. Start by reducing time spent watching television or playing video games by one hour per week, and gradually reduce time spent devoted to such activities in the ensuing weeks.

• Hide devices. The mantra, “out of sight, out of mind” can work with respect to digital devices. If tablets or smartphones are tucked away, family members may feel less inclined to reach for them at any given time. Just as you wouldn’t stock your pantry full of fattening foods while trying to lose weight, don’t make digital devices readily available throughout the day.

• Keep televisions out of the bedroom. Children who have televisions in their bedrooms tend to watch an additional 90 minutes of programming per day than those who do not have televisions in their room. Keep the television in a shared area of the house so that time spent watching the TV can be monitored and adjusted.

• Establish guidelines. Set firm limits on how much screen time will be allowed per day and stick with it. Adults can lead by example.

• Plan more family activities. Boredom can easily give way to time spent fooling around on the Internet or channel surfing. Parents should have a cache of ideas at the ready that promote active family time. Neighborhood walks or tossing around a baseball in the yard are enjoyable activities that cut back on time spent being sedentary. Encourage indoor activities, such as puzzles or board games, if the weather is not cooperating.

• Be steadfast. Do not throw in the towel too soon. Families should stand their ground when attempting to decrease their screen time in favor of healthier activities.

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