How to keep screen time healthy for kids

By Sarah Mayberry, M.P.H., Local 4 Health Producer, @4goodhealth
Published On: Aug 06 2014 09:01:45 AM EDT
Updated On: Jun 23 2014 02:15:49 PM EDT
Kid in iPad

"No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks!"

Remember that rhyme? It's the one we chanted as we raced out of our classrooms on the last day of school each year. We would spend the next two-and-a half months swimming, riding bikes and playing outside until the street lights came on. While most of today's children still do plenty of swimming and biking, it seems many also spend a lot of time staring at screens.  I mean, a lot of time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids spend no more than two hours a day on cell phones, computers, video games or tablets.  Experts say many children surpass that before lunchtime. A study by the Kaiser Foundation found that American children ages eight to 18 spend an average of seven and a half hours a day engaged in some sort of media.

If your children are falling into the habit of excess summer screen time, experts say you need to start by setting some ground rules.

“It’s a great idea to let kids know what to expect in advance that way, when it comes up there is no discussion or argument," said Dr. Kate Eshleman, a child psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.  "They know what the rules are and the expectations and the choice is to abide by them.”

Keeping track of your child's screen time is also key. 

Iowa State University researchers recently found parents who monitor their child’s total screen time have children who sleep more, do better in school and behave less aggressively.  Moving televisions and computers out of bedrooms and into common areas can make it easier to monitor how much time they're really logging.  Teaching your family to turn off the television when no one is actively watching it can also help.

But it's not enough to simply set the rules. Eshleman says parents need to go the extra mile to summer screen time less appealing.

"Not only do the parents need to set the limits and the expectations, they need to get involved and play with the kids. Go outside and play ball. Take them for a walk. Drive them to their friend’s house or pick their friends up. It’s going to be up to the parents to help them engage as well," said Eshleman.

Eshleman also suggests teaching your kids some of the games you enjoyed playing when you were young.  From freeze tag to your favorite board games, anything that doesn't involve electronics will work.

After all, summer vacations are far too fleeting to spend staring a screen. 

For more advice on limiting summer screen time, click here.

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