Helpful Ways to Reduce TV Time for Kids

Here are a few simple tips to help your children reduce their screen time and increase physical activity in order to maintain a healthy weight.

  • Know how much screen time, active time your family is getting. By knowing how much screen media, including TV, DVD, video games and non-school- or work-related computer and Internet use, your family spends and how much physical activity they get, you will be more aware of their needs for physical activity to maintain energy balance.
  • Talk to your family. Explain to your children that it's important to sit less and move more to stay at a healthy weight. They will also be more energized, have a chance to practice certain skills (such as riding a bike or shooting hoops), and have fun with friends and peers. Tell them that you also are going to limit your screen time and increase your physical activity, so you will all be working toward this goal together.
  • Set limits on screen time. Set a house rule that your children may spend no more than two hours a day of screen time. More importantly, enforce the rule once it's made.
  • Minimize the influence of TV in the home. Do not put a TV or computer in your child's bedroom. This tends to physically isolate family members and decrease interaction. Also, children who have TVs in their room tend to spend almost 1 1/2 hours more in a typical day watching TV than their peers without a set in their room.
  • Make meal time, family time. Turn off the TV during family meal time. Better yet, remove the TV from the eating area if you have one there. Family meals are a good time to talk to each other. Research has shown that families who eat together tend to eat more nutritious meals than families who eat separately. Make eating together a priority and schedule in family meals at least two to three times a week.
  • Provide other options and alternatives. Watching TV can become a habit for your child. Provide other alternatives for them to spend their time, such as playing outside, learning a hobby or sport, or spending time with family and friends.
  • Set a good example. You need to be a good role model and also limit your screen time to no more than two hours per day. If your kids see you following your own rules, then they will be more likely to follow. Instead of watching TV or surfing the Internet, spend time with your family doing something fun and active.
  • Don't use TV to reward or punish a child. Practices like this make TV seem even more important to children.
  • Be a savvy media consumer. Don't expect your child to ignore the influences of television advertising of snack foods, candy, soda, and fast food. Help your child develop healthy eating habits and become media savvy by teaching them to recognize a sales pitch. Ask your child why their favorite cartoon character is trying to get them to eat a certain brand of breakfast cereal. Explain to them that this is a way for advertisers to make the cereal more appealing to young people, so that they ask their parents to buy it for them and the company can make money.
  • Make screen time, active time. Stretch, do yoga, lift hand weights while watching TV; challenge the family to see who can do the most push-ups, jumping jacks or leg lifts during commercial breaks, or switch to an exercise tape during commercials.
  • Try a screen time log. Print and complete this log to determine how much time you are spending in front of a screen. Help your family do the same. Place the log in an easy location for everyone to use and see, such as near the family television, by the computer, or on the refrigerator. If screen time for you or your family members is less than 2 hours a day, pat yourselves on the back! If it's 2 hours or more, then check out the Get Moving section to help you reduce your screen time and switch to some physically active alternatives.Click here to print a copy of a sample Children's Screen Time Log.

Adapted from Helpful Ways to Reduce Screen Time
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

Reviewed by athealth on February 5, 2014.