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Cutting Down on Kids’ Screen Time

father and young son play football in their yard

Research continues to confirm what many parents already know: Too much sitting in front of the TV, video game system, computer, and/or smartphone is linked to higher body mass index (BMI) in children, which is another way of saying it’s linked to childhood obesity. And childhood obesity raises the risk of adult obesity and the health problems that it can cause, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Limiting kids’ screen time is a big job. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, children ages 8-18 spend an average 7½ hours every day in front of a screen for entertainment. More than half of that is spent watching TV. And that doesn’t include time spent in front of a computer during school or doing homework.

Time spent in front of a screen is time that kids could spend being physically active. The American Cancer Society recommends children and teens get at least 1 hour of moderate- or vigorous-intensity activity each day, with vigorous activity on at least 3 days each week. Vigorous activities make your heart beat and breathing faster, and make you sweat. Examples include jogging, aerobic dance, fast biking, jumping rope, swimming, and playing sports such as soccer, lacrosse, singles tennis, and basketball.

Screen time guidelines

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents monitor children’s screen time and place limits on their use:
  • Babies younger than age 18 months: No screen time except video-chatting with family and friends.
  • Toddlers ages 18-24 months: Some high-quality programming is OK as long as a parent or caregiver is watching with them, to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • Very young children ages 2-5: 1 hour a day or less of high-quality programming is OK as long as a parent or caregiver is watching with them, to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • Children ages 6 and older: Parents should place consistent limits on all types of screen time, including use of TV, computer, video games, and smartphones for entertainment. Screen time should not interfere with getting enough sleep or getting enough physical activity.
  • Parents should have ongoing communication with their children about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

Other tips:

  • Keep TVs and other electronic devices out of kids’ rooms.
  • Set limits on screen time and stick to them.
  • Set up “screen-free” times of day, such as school-day mornings, dinnertime, and bedtime.
  • Encourage physical activity, preferably outside, over TV, computers, or video games.
  • Be an example. If you get moving, your kids are more likely to do the same. 

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.