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Screen time and children

"Screen time" is any time that is spent in front of a screen, such as a TV, computer, or video game player. Screen time is sedentary activity, or being inactive while sitting down. Very little energy is used during screen time.

Most children spend about 3 hours a day watching TV. When you add in other screen time activities, it is closer to 5 - 7 hours a day.

Too much screen time can:

  • Increase your child’s risk of becoming obese
  • Make it harder to get your child to go to bed and fall asleep at night
  • Increase the chance that your child will develop attention problems, anxiety, and depression

Screen time increases your child’s risk of obesity because:

  • Sitting and watching a screen is time that is not spent being physically active.
  • TV commercials and other screen ads can teach children to make less healthy food choices. Most of the time, the food in ads aimed at kids is high in sugar, salt, or fats. It is not nutritious.
  • Children eat more when they are watching TV, especially if they see ads for food.

Computers can be helpful when kids are using them to do schoolwork. But surfing the internet, spending time on Facebook, or watching YouTube videos is considered unhealthy screen time.

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Current Screen Time Guidelines

Children under age 2 should have no screen time.

Limit screen to 1 - 2 hours a day for children over age 2.

Videos aimed at very young children do not improve their development, in spite of what ads that promote them say.

How to Decrease Screen Time

For some children, reducing screen time to 2 hours a day can be difficult because watching TV is part of their daily routine. Efforts to reduce screen time work better when children understand how sedentary activity is affecting their health, and they learn they can do things to get healthier.

Ways to decrease screen time:

  • Remove the television or computer from your child’s bedroom.
  • Do not allow TV watching during meals or homework.
  • Do not let your child eat while watching TV or using the computer.
  • Do not leave the TV on for background noise. Turn on the radio instead, or have no background noise.
  • Decide which programs to watch ahead of time, and turn off the TV when the program is over.
  • Suggest other activities, such as a family board game, puzzle, or going for a walk.
  • Keep a record of how much time is spent in front of a screen. Try to spend the same amount of time being active.
  • Be a good role model as a parent. Decrease your own screen time to 2 hours a day.
  • If it is hard not having the TV on, try using the sleep function so it turns off automatically.
  • Challenge your family to go 1 week without watching TV or doing other screen-time activity. Find things to do with your time that get you moving and burning energy.

Updated: 7/1/2011

Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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