It's definitely spring time and great weather to be outdoors! But the screens in our homes -- television, computer, video games, and cell phone -- can sometimes tempt us to spend too much time in front of them.
Health experts say screen time at home should be limited to two hours or less a day, unless it's work- or homework-related. The time spent in front of the screen could be better spent being more physically active and setting a good example for our families.
When it comes to kids, parents and caregivers should not only set a good example. They need to set rules that limit kids' computer time, TV watching, and video game playing. Research by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation shows that when parents set rules and enforce them, TV-watching time drops by two hours a day.
Other research shows that on average, 8- to 18-year olds spend about four hours daily watching TV, DVDs, and other devices. They also spend over one hour on the computer and 50 minutes playing video games. That's a total of almost six hours a day spent sitting in front of a screen. Those with bedroom TVs spend almost 1 1/2 hours more in front of the screen than those without TVs in their rooms.
The time children spend in front of a screen is time they're not being physically active. Kids need at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. The more time children spend in front of a screen, the more likely they are to be overweight.
An easy way to see just how much time is being spent in front of a screen is to go to the WeCan! website of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. The site is www.nhlbi.nih.gov. There you can print a screen time log for you and your family to track daily screen time.
Following are some tips to help children -- and adults -- reduce screen time.
* Explain to kids that it's important to sit less and move more in order to stay at a healthy weight. Tell them they'll also have more energy, and it will help them develop and/or perfect new skills, such as riding a bike or shooting hoops, that could lead to having more fun with friends.
* Be a good role model and limit your screen time to no more than two hours per day, too. If kids see you following your own rules, then they'll be more likely to do the same.
* Create a house rule that limits screen time to two hours every day and enforce it.
* Don't use TV time as reward or punishment.
* Watching TV can become a habit, making it easy to forget what else is out there. Give kids ideas and alternatives, such as playing outside, getting a new hobby, or learning a sport.
* Seeing snack foods, candy, and fast food on television affects all of us, especially kids. Help your child understand that because it's on TV -- or their favorite TV characters eat or drink it --doesn't mean the food or drink is good for you. Get kids to think about why their favorite cartoon character is trying to get them to eat a certain brand of breakfast cereal.
* Turn off the TV during meals. 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 shows that families who eat together tend to eat more nutritious meals. Make eating together a priority and schedule family meals at least two to three times a week.