This lesson helps young people define “screen time” and potential problems with spending too much time looking at electronic screens. They will analyze how much of their day they spend in front of electronic screens and think of healthy ways to limit their screen time.
Help the youth define screentime by asking these questions and discussing as a group:
- What exactly is screen time? (Screen time includes time spent in front of the TV, computer, phone/texting, or video game playing.)
- How much screen time do you have?
- What are some ways you can cut down on screen time?
Activity: How Much Screen Time Do You Have?
Ask young people to write down their screen time each day for one week. They track their total numbers of hours each day. It could also help for them to write down what type of screen time it is. This will give them a visual sense of how they’re spending their time throughout the week.
After young people have tracked their screen time for a week, discuss the group’s results with the following questions:
- How much screen time do you usually have in the morning, before school? Is this your routine just about every morning?
- Do you have any screen time during school? How much?
- What about after school, before dinner?
- How about during dinner?
- How about at night, after dinner?
- How about on Saturdays? Sundays?
Young people might be surprised by how much screen time pediatricians (doctors who take care of children) think is healthy for youth to have each day.
Ask the youth, how much for kids 2 years old and younger? (Have the young people write down a number.)
Next, how much for kids older than 2? (Again, have them write down a number.)
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following for screen time:
- Children younger than 18 months: No screen time, except for video-chatting.
- Children 18 months to 24 months: If you want to introduce screen time to your child, choose high-quality programs and watch them with your child.
- Children age 2 to 5: Limit your child to 1 hour or less of high-quality programs each day. Watch these programs with your child to help him/her better understand them.
- Children age 6 and older: Set a screen time limit that is right for your child and the whole family. It’s important that screen time never replaces healthful behaviors such as physical activity, sleep and interaction with others.
Ask the young people, how do you feel about this? Does it surprise you? (Getting feedback from them will help them to feel like they’re part of this process.)
Can you guess what some of the reasons are for why you should only have two hours or less? Ask them for their ideas, but make sure they get this message:
- One of the main reasons is that the more screen time you have, the more time you spend sitting or lying down, and not really moving your body.
- The less time you spend moving your body, the higher the chances are that you could end up having too much extra weight on your body.
- Extra weight can cause health problems now, and when you get just a little older. Health problems include: weaker heart and bones, high blood pressure, and diabetes. These conditions used to only be found in older people, now pediatricians are seeing younger kids with these conditions.
Activity: Cutting down screen time
Now we need to take a look at the amount of time you spend in front of a screen each day to figure out ways to get it to about two hours or less, if it’s not there already. Here are some simple things you can do:
- Try to remember to turn off the television if nobody’s really watching.
- Plan ahead! Look at the shows that are going to be on each day, and choose which ones would be good to watch.
- Turn off the television and games when eating meals.
- Avoid eating while at the computer or watching TV. This helps keep us from eating too much.
- Set a timer to help us remember to get away from the TV or computer or whatever screen we’re using, because it’s easy to lose track of time when you’re in front of a screen.
Ask the youth to come up with some ideas of things they would like to do to replace screen time with other things. And let’s make them things that will be fun to do as a family, or fun for you to do with your friends, or sometimes just fun for you on your own.
Remind young people that this is just one of many lessons about breaking habits that aren’t so healthful and replacing them with habits that are healthful. Changing habits is challenging for everybody—kids and parents. We can all help each other, and remind each other we’re doing this to make improvements in our health, but also to have fun together as a family.
Set screen time goals for the next week. Some examples include:
- Turn the television off if nobody’s really watching it.
- Eat our food in the kitchen or dining room. No screen time while eating!
- Do not text during family meals or other time set aside for family activities.
Keep track of your screen time each day. When you’ve reached two hours, replace your screen time with a healthy activity. If you’ve had plenty of exercise already, read a book, make artwork or crafts, or even just have a conversation with other family members.
Continuing the Conversation
Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in English or Spanish, which also includes these tips, so that families can continue discussing ways to limit screen time at home.
Additional Instructor Resources
Decreasing Screen Time Article