UF expert offers ways to cut “screen time” as kids return to school

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — To some parents, it can seem like children scan social media, TV and the Internet almost constantly. As we head toward a new school year, a University of Florida expert gives tips on how to deal with “screen time,” and perhaps, get the whole family more physically active.

During school breaks, television and computer use tends to increase, compared to screen time during the school year, according to a research article published in the Journal of School Health.  For school-aged children, the idea is to balance media use with other healthy behaviors, the academy says.

Nicole Owens, a UF/IFAS Extension state specialized agent and program coordinator for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), said the program teaches parents how to put the pediatric academy’s screen time recommendations into practice with their children at home.

Among many lessons, the food and nutrition education program focuses on strategies to get the whole family moving more together, which includes a section on reducing screen time, Owens said.

“A reduction in screen time does not necessarily result in increased physical activity, which is why pairing these messages together is key to increased awareness of both topics,” Owens said.

Owens cited a success story brought about by EFNEP outreach activity. In 2016, 4,145 adults graduated from the eight-week program, and 40 percent reported increased levels of physical activity, she said.

The Physical Activities Guidelines for Americans shows adults should get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity each week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. Children and adolescents should get 50 minutes or more of physical activity each day.

“Working with parents is crucial, because research shows that when parents’ steps increase their children’s steps increase too,” Owens said. “Whether parents increase their steps or reduce their screen time, these positive behaviors are noticed and modeled by their children.”

Owens suggested the following tips for parents to keep their kids’ screen time down:

  • Parents should be role models — limiting their own screen time, perhaps creating screen time limits for the whole family.
  • Create screen-free bedrooms.
  • Instead of watching television during meals, talk about the day with kids.
  • Stock rooms with screens with non-screen entertainment too, such as board games, puzzles, and books.
  • Log screen time and physical activity time to see how much time is spent by the family on each. Create goals to reduce screen time and increase physical activity together.
  • Play, take a walk, or cook with kids to reduce screen time.

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By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

 

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