Television has been around for more than half a century.
The first appearance of TV in the United States occurred at the World’s Fair in 1939, but regular television broadcasting did not begin until the late 1940s.
Still, concern about the affect of television on children began when TV was in its infancy.
Today screen time not only includes television, but also other forms of electronic media such as computers, movies and video games.
The New York Department of Health Obesity Prevention Program and the Center for Screen-Time Awareness are once again partnering for the Second Annual Statewide Turnoff Week, Monday through April 27.
Most Americans are overweight.
Medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and other problems connected with obesity, that were once considered adult medical concerns are now starting in childhood.
One of the biggest contributors to this new trend in childhood is increased screen time.
According to the Kiser Family Foundation, “American children and adolescents spend 22-28 hours per week viewing television, more than any other activity except sleeping. By the age of 70 they will have spent 7-10 years of their lives watching TV.”
In addition, nearly half of all families with children have all of the latest media equipment, including VCR/DVD, video gaming equipment and at least one computer, thus adding up to a lot of time spent sitting in front of a screen.
Where to begin?
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests finding fun, positive activities that children and adolescents enjoy to replace some of the screen time.
Talk with your family and brainstorm activities you can do for the times you are most likely to miss watching TV.
It’s all about balance.
Help children and young people understand the importance of balancing screen time with active time.
Make television less important. Keep the television and/or the computer out of the child’s bedroom.
If it is already there, it is best to remove it.
It is difficult to monitor screen time if the child is isolated from the rest of the family.
Be a positive role model. Monitor the amount of time adults in the home watch TV as well. Children love to spend time with their parents and TV watching interferes with that special time.
A great alternative would be to get the whole family involved in physical activity.
Use ideas from your brainstorming lists, just get moving and have fun.
At other times, get out a board game, a jigsaw puzzle, a deck of cards, listen to music, or read together.
The USDA MyPyramid (www.mypyramid.gov) teaches not only about healthy eating, but also encourages people to be physically active most days of the week. Being active means stop sitting so much and start moving on a regular basis. The recommended guidelines vary depending on individual needs.
A person wanting to achieve better health should be physically active for at least 30 minutes, most days of the week.
Someone wishing to avoid weight gain should be active for 60 minutes most days, while a person wishing to sustain weight loss should be physically active for 60-90 minutes each day.
Children and teenagers need 60 minutes of activity most days.
The US Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the National Institutes of Health, suggest other ways to reduce screen time:
Know how much screen time and active time your family is getting.
By knowing how much screen media, including TV, VCR/DVD, video games, and non-school or work related computer and Internet use your family spends and how much physical activity they get, you will be more aware of their needs for physical activity to maintain energy balance.
Set limits on screen time.
Set a house rule that children may spend no more than two hours a day of screen time. More importantly, enforce the rule once it’s made.
Make meal time, family time. Turn off the TV during family meal times. 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 has shown that families who eat together tend to eat more nutritious meals than families who eat separately.
Make eating together a priority and schedule family meals at least two to three times a week.
Don’t use TV to reward or punish a child.
Practices like this make TV seem even more important to children.
Be a savvy media consumer. Don’t expect children and adolescents to ignore the influences of television advertising of snack foods, candy, soda and fast food. Help them develop healthy eating habits and become media savvy be teaching them to recognize a sales pitch.
Ask them why their favorite cartoon character is trying to get them to eat a certain brand of breakfast cereal.
Explain to them that this is a way for advertisers to make the cereal more appealing to young people, so they ask their parents to buy it for them.
Make screen time more active. Stretch or lift hand weights while watching TV.
Challenge the family to see who can do the most push-ups, jumping jacks or leg lifts during commercial breaks.
By the time an average child graduates from high school, he or she will have spent more time in front of a screen than with a teacher.
Help your child turn off the screen.
Additional information about Turn Off Week can be found at www.screentime.org.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery Counties provides equal program and employment opportunities. Visit our Web site at www.ccefm.com.