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It's best to limit the staring



Published: Mon, October 23, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Kids (and adults, too) have to be encouraged to get more exercise.

By EDWARD M. EVELD

MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS

Definition: Screen time -- the leisure hours spent staring at screens, including televisions, computer monitors, video game screens and DVDs.

Daily screen time is one of the biggest obstacles to staying active and keeping fit.

Health experts say people who spend less than two hours of their spare time watching a screen aren't doing so badly. More than two hours, and changes are in order. Many children, research shows, rack up more than six hours daily.

Renette Wardlow, human development specialist with University of Missouri Extension, said parents need to take action. But it will be hard.

"They're tired, they're stressed out, they work multiple jobs, and so they set the kids in front of a screen," Wardlow said. "Even preschools are filled with computer monitors and games. It's an easy way to keep everybody in check with minimal effort."

What to do

Parents can help by setting a good example, enforcing screen-time limits and encouraging, even leading, playtime activities, she said.

Nickelodeon, the cable channel, went "dark" Sept. 30 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to encourage kids to play.

STEP ONE:

Keep a log. Each person in the family records daily nonwork/school screen time for one week. Be honest and get ready for a shock. Once people see the results, they'll more likely be ready for the next action.

STEP TWO:

Make changes, beginning with these suggestions from family specialists and the National Institutes of Health:

Set a rule that no one spends more than two hours per day with the TV, computer, video games or DVDs combined.

Remove TVs and computers from kids' rooms. Personal TVs and computers isolate family members from each other. They're also difficult to monitor. Kids with their own TVs watch 90 minutes more a day than those without.

No television during mealtime. Better yet, take the TV out of the kitchen. Research shows that families that share meals are happier and eat more nutritious meals.

Offer alternatives. Children may need encouragement. Brainstorm ideas and post a list.

Be an example. Parents who restrict screen time for their children must limit it for themselves, too.

Don't make TV a reward or a punishment. Using TV as a disciplinary tool adds to its allure.

Make TV-watching a decision, not a fallback. Plan the shows you'll watch; don't channel surf. The TV shouldn't be background noise; turn it off if it's not being watched.




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