The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that screen time should be avoided for children under the age of 2 and that parents of older children develop a strategy for minimizing exposure to media.

This strategy should ensure that kids have opportunities to participate in other activities outside of screen-based pursuits. Having a plan in place will help parents limit children’s exposure to overly mature material and help parents carefully monitor their child’s screen habits. It also is especially important to keep electronic devices out of a child’s bedroom as they can interfere with sleep.

Following these recommendations will help parents reduce children’s sedentary screen time, which can have big implications for their health – both brain and body – in growing children.

However, sticking to these guidelines can be especially challenging during the winter when kids have fewer opportunities to play outside given the colder temperatures and reduced hours of daylight. This also is cold and flu season, so in addition to regularly scheduled winter breaks, kids will likely spend some time out of school and in front of a screen, while sick. Parents need to think creatively and be proactive to ensure that their children don’t spend too much time during the winter months in front of a screen.

Here are four tips to get you started:

  1. Make a plan: Determine what your child is allowed to watch and which devices they can use at what times. Once you make a plan, stick to it (yes, this is easier said than done).
  2. Identify alternate activities: Take a close look at your child’s routines to determine when he or she is engaging in the most screen time. Help identify alternate activities at those times to make it easier to enforce limitations. Reading, art projects, playing or talking with friends, listening to music, or family game time are all good options.
  3. Get moving:If possible, find ways to get your child moving during the winter months. Participate in a team or club sport, dance class, or family activities that include walking (e.g., going to a museum or the zoo, walking to a favorite restaurant, etc.). Or, try having a dance party at home!
  4. Be a good role model:Turn off the television and computer. Establish “screen-free” family time, and stay active!

If you can limit screen time and encourage more movement even during the winter months, you will be taking important steps in maintaining your child’s physical and mental health. It is certainly worth the effort and planning.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Mackey is also a mother of two girls.

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