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June 14th, 2010
12:05 AM ET

Parental enforcement, exercise help kids cut 'screen time'

By Ann J. Curley
CNN Medical Assignment Manager

Children whose parents keep consistent rules about how much screen time their children are allowed are less likely to exceed the recommended limits, a new study has found. The study also found that children and teens who were involved in physical activities were at lower odds for going over the limits for screen time. The findings are published in the June 14 issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Previous studies have had mixed results about the effects of physical activity and this study found consistent benefit between involvement in physical activity and the amount of time kids spent in front of the screen.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers studied data from a telephone survey that included 7,415 children and 5,685 parents, including 1,513 families that had two or more children. The families participating in the study were part of the Youth Media Campaign Longitudinal Survey, which tracks a group of children and their parents who were judged to be representative of the U.S. population. The purpose of the study was to be evaluated by the CDC VERB campaign, which sought to encourage tweens to be physically active every day.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children older than 2 watch no more than two hours per day of quality screen time, which includes television, non-homework-related computer time and video games  for children and teens.

In the survey, children and parent were asked about whether they had rules and limitations for how much television and video game time they were allowed to use, and the children were asked whether they agreed with the rules. Children also were asked to report all of the physical activities they participated in, including sports, physical activity lessons, or playing actively with their friends. PE classes and recess activities were not included.

The survey found that the chances of exceeding screen time limits were higher in boys than in girls, were higher according to age, and were lower for lower-income parents. Black and other racial and ethnic groups were more likely to report exceeding screen time limits compared with whites. The largest differences in screen time were associated with age, with children aged 14 to 15 years reporting the highest screen times. Fewer than half of the parents reported they always or often placed limits on screen times. Children whose parents reported having rules about screen time and who reported agreeing that their parent had rules had the lowest chance of exceeding screen time limits. Kids who reported physical activity, or being involved on a sports team, were less likely to exceed screen time limits.

The study authors conclude that programs that concentrate on developing parental limit setting for screen time, and that promote physical activity, may have positive results in decreasing the amount of time that kids aged 9 to 15 spend in front of the screen. Study author Janet Fulton, who is a lead epidemiologist with the CDC, says that there are three things that parents can do to limit their kids' screen time: Know the recommendations on how much time children should spend in front of the screen, be consistent about limiting screen time, and encourage children to be active every day. She also notes the importance of health care providers, nurses, medical practitioners and schools to make sure parents are well informed about the importance of setting screen time limits.

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soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Daniel

    Really now.... I would not have guessed...

    June 14, 2010 at 08:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. BRUCE

    WOW – – – what a shocker!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Was taxpayer money funding this ground breaking, cutting edge study?????

    June 14, 2010 at 08:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Billshut

    The problem over the past 20 years is that the television has become an ad hoc babysitter, and we've had Barney (etc) raising America's children.

    It's no wonder they sometimes end up so screwed up!

    Back in the day when I was growing up, we had a half hour or so, as soon as we got home from school, that we could take a break, eat a snack, and catch a little "tube time". Then it was off to do homework, and after that have some play time before dinner. It didn't include the TV set!
    After dinner, once the dishes were cleaned up, we might get an hour or two (depending on how old we were) of TV before cleaning up and getting ready for bed. Pre-school? 8-8:30. Even up to Jr. High, 9PM. High school, 9:30 to 10PM. As important as play time, exercise, chores and healthy eating were, so was a good night's sleep.

    June 14, 2010 at 08:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Clara

    "Children whose parents keep consistent rules about how much screen time their children are allowed are less likely to exceed the recommended limits, a new study has found."

    Wow, common sense couldn't of told me that!

    June 14, 2010 at 08:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Mike H

    So, bottom line, what is the generally accepted daily allotment of TV time? We have a 13 yr old boy that appears addicted to TV and computer games and I'm trying desperately to ween him off of them. It is a constant battle around our house. He can't walk into the house without first heading for the TV control to turn it on. We've tried to put limits on it but don't really have a feel for what is acceptable and fair. Any suggestions???

    June 14, 2010 at 09:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. K Smith

    I haven't had to impose screen time limits for my children. The TV doesn't go on on school nights, before school we kick around a soccer ball and most evenings there are activities, homework or just time to play. I don't begrudge the kids Saturday morning cartoons or an occasional chance to play games on the computer but they would rather be 'doing' than 'watching'.

    June 14, 2010 at 09:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Michael

    The results of this study are so obvious it makes you appreciate how much money gets wasted on this kind of crap every year

    June 14, 2010 at 09:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Bob Bichen

    Here's a tip; exercise WITH your kids. It has a lot more impact when you practice what you preach rather than just barking orders. Plus it is a lot of fun running around, kicking a ball, or whatever, with them. Helps keep you young.

    June 14, 2010 at 09:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Beth

    I am replying to the parent with the 13 yr old addicted to t.v. and gaming.We cancelled our t.v. Yes there was hissy fits for a while but the end result is worth it. Nicer kid , more imagination, gets up and does stuff! Just this weekend he went out and helped his dad with the wood. It did take a while to adjust but definately worth the effort!

    June 14, 2010 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Mike R

    Mike H:

    See http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/tv_affects_child.html

    google " kids TV time limit"

    Generally it is much easier to replace an activity than to just say don't do it. So you need to find another activity to occupy him.

    Yes you are in a hole on this so will have to put in a lot of mental effort to change the pattern.

    June 14, 2010 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Dan

    I don't have kids yet but a friend of mine uses tv time as an incentive for exercise. For every half hour of exercise his kids get an hour of tv/computer time. He started this at a young age with them though so they bought into it; I don't know how effective this would be with older children already set in their ways.

    June 14, 2010 at 10:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Jane

    Mike H: Read the fourth paragraph.

    And while weaning your son from the TV, have some activity(ies) to replace it. Offer to take him to a skateboard park, ride bikes with him with a goal of entering Bike-A-Thons or community bike rides, sign him up for a sport, or look into other activities such as Campfire, Sea Cadets, Explorers, creative problem solving teams affiliated with Odyssey of the Mind or Destination Imagination. Is he into building things at all, like with plastic blocks that rhyme with a frozen waffle? They have sophisticated sets that take awhile to build and are for the over 12 age group. Or build a fort, or go-kart? Public Library? You can set up a system of relating the amount of time he spends reading books to the amount of screen time he gets. Fishing/camping? Beginning when school starts in the fall, look into any school activity. Yearbook photographer? Drama program? Band or choir? There are a kajillion things out there for kids, but it takes parental time and energy to direct the child and ferry him hither and yon. Notice some of the above require money, but relatively few of them require much at all.

    June 14, 2010 at 10:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. MsMHS

    There's still a whole generation of us folks out there who grew up when few had a television - we played in the streets - rode bikes without helmets on - went swimming in the local swimming hole without adult supervision - and during summer vacations we played outside from the time we woke until the 9:30 p.m. siren at City Hall went off. We are not the obese generation. We also instilled in our children that television could only be watched after homework, after sports and after dinner until "bedtime." This rule prevailed until they left for college.
    We seniors did not need a survey to know what this report tells us. All the investigating unit had to do was inquire from us.

    June 14, 2010 at 10:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Jamie

    My family made the decision 3 years ago to drop cable television and TV network veiwing of any kind. The kids also went computer free for a summer. What has happened since our momentous decision? One of our daughters reads over 35 books a Summer, we come together as a family and have quality time in discussion, games, and activities. When we do decide to watch a video or DVD it is a family event. The family comes together and we all enjoy the viewing together. This decision has increased our kids school performance and activity level. Children don't just contend w/ screen time for television, but also computer and a variety of hand held games. I have read studies that found children have trouble sleeping/insomnia when there is excess screen time. Further food for thought.

    June 14, 2010 at 10:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Annie

    We've found that having the TV off on weeknights during school keeps us within the limits and during the summer we go with the idea that if there is daylight, the TV is off. We also have a "TV room" so that the TV isn't the center of all of our family socialization... and no TV's in bedrooms.

    June 14, 2010 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Rick

    We have 4 kids, it was driving us nuts keeping track of their video and comptuer time. A combination of two things worked for us.
    1.) The BOB TV Timer (by Hopscotch Technology)
    2.) ComputerTime (by Software Time)

    Google them. You'll find they are very afordable and easy to set up. Saves a bunch of headaches!

    June 14, 2010 at 10:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Lynne

    I know I get tired of the repeated requests for the computer so we set up our computers to be on and off at certain times. With your 13 year old, you could have a time when the computer, etc. is available, but turn it all off at a certain point in the evening. Only two hours is hard for our kids, but I'm trying to stick to it. Honestly I feel like I am attempting to bore them into playing with their toys. The other battle is when they run out of time at our home then they will just go to another home and use that computer.

    I know kids need down time and shouldn't be overscheduled, but that does keep them off the computer!

    June 14, 2010 at 10:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Linda

    @Bob Bichen: I agree 100%. I have a 2 year old, and I regularly exercise. Now he comes to our exercise room with me and says, "Mommy exercise". He will even grab a five pound weight and do squats with me, all on his own. He mimics me doing various exercises. He has such a serious look on his face when he does it, too, that's it hard not to laugh. I tell him what a good job he's doing and he just smiles. They really do watch what you do.

    June 14, 2010 at 10:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. MadInscriber

    I'm not normally a "why is this article even news" sort of person, but... but...

    We set limits. They are followed. Because we're the blooming parents, that's why! We don't beat them into submission either. We just don't waver from our expectations. We don't give in to whining. We don't turn a blind eye to sneaking. We pay attention.

    The issue of limits is a general problem with modern parenting.

    Regarding the specific issue: TV/DVD/recreational computer time is on the weekend, and limited at that. We have a library card and we're not afraid to use it. We play games. We go... outside.

    I'm going to be super judgmental today, and say that if you don't have the time or inclination to bother to raise your kids, rather than merely supervise their existence, please don't have them.

    Mike H, this is not a judgment on you. This is a general statement, going back to my first point.

    June 14, 2010 at 13:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Megan

    Thanks for that suggestion Rick. I just looked up ComputerTime and it's just what I need!

    With as many kids as computers in the house, it can be hard to simply rely on my own ability to monitor. I can't keep track of who used it for how much and booting them off the computer is often met with an argument that they haven't had their share yet.

    I DO want the kids to have access to the computer as a tool for school and for learning things. I don't mind that they play or go on facebook with their friends for a limited amount of time, but there is a lot else for them to do off line.

    I downloaded the trial and installed it on all of the kids computers and we'll see how it goes. Not hard to setup either.

    Agree with the other parents mentioning getting involved and being a model for the kids. Get out and exercise with them. Don't tell them to go outside and then sit yourself on your computer. 😉

    June 14, 2010 at 19:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Zaira

    Awesome article! Thanks for this great article.This is so informative.

    August 6, 2010 at 03:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. carlsonvau

    values least comment warm

    September 1, 2010 at 05:32 | Report abuse | Reply

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