The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


6 Tips to be Screen Free and Fit

Written by
Amber Freeland
Posted in

Wednesday, Apr 10, 2019

Do you know how much screen time your children get each day? Think about all of the digital screens at school, at home and while driving around that your children see in a given day - TVs, tablets, phones, wearables, computers. Now think about how much physical activity time they are getting. Which one is greater? For most of us, that can be a scary thought.

April 29 - May 5 is Screen-Free Week, so it’s the perfect time to rethink your family’s screen time habits and find new ways to stay active.

Too much screen time can be detrimental to your child’s health, and even your own. The lack of physical activity and abundance of screen time are two of the biggest obstacles to children’s health that we face. Excessive screen time is leading to a dramatic increase in nearsightedness while sitting too much is considered by many to be as dangerous as smoking. According to the Vision Impact Institute, physical activity can improve whole child health and vision. It also has a dramatic effect on brain development. In a recent 60 Minutes special on CBS, the National Institutes of Health revealed that kids who spend more than two hours a day on screens got lower scores on thinking and language tests.

Today’s students are less active than ever before. In fact, the average 19-year-old is as inactive as the average 60-year-old. This can lead to a wide variety of health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, vision problems, poor socialization skills, and even some mental health issues - all of which can follow them into adulthood. Regular physical activity and exercise is the best way to avoid these issues across the lifespan.

So before you hand over that iPad, start that Netflix binge, or let your child play video games in their room, think about setting healthy limits and getting regular physical activity with these tips:

  • Calculate screen time:  Figure out how much screen time students get at school, daycare, at home, and even while on the go (think tablets, phones, back seat TV monitors and portable gaming devices in the car). Take an honest assessment of how much screen time everyone in your family is getting and then take steps to reduce it. The Media Use Plan and Calculator can help you calculate how much screen time is appropriate for each member of your family.
  • Set limits: You can’t do much to reduce screen time when they are at school, but you can control it at home or in your car. Set healthy limits by keeping kids active with chores, outdoor play, or family activities. Driving time is also a great opportunity to increase family talk time and reduce screen time. After all, you do have a captive audience once they are in the car.
  • Go screen-free:  Designate a few screen-free days each week or set aside a certain time when all screens must be turned off. Turning off screens an hour or so before bedtime is a great way to wind down the evening and help kids get build better sleep habits. You can also designate certain areas of the house as screen-free zones like the dining room or bedroom.
  • Take breaks:  Encourage kids to play outside instead of playing video games or watching TV when they come home. Have them take frequent breaks during homework to keep them from being too sedentary. Help break the addiction to gaming by making them do a chore or some other form of physical activity for each half hour of game time.
  • Be the change:  Model screen-free behavior by limiting your own screen time. It’s easy to try and tell children what they should do, but are you following your own advice? Put your phone down when the family is together. Ask them to go on a walk with you or to play soccer in the backyard. Turn off the TV during dinner time. Change starts with you.
  • Get moving:  Make physical activity part of your family’s regular schedule to create a natural screen-free time and boost physical health for everyone. Evening walks, weekend hikes, or family chore time gets everyone moving together.

Learn more about how too much screen time can be detrimental to whole-child health and wellness.