Wellness Newsletters

 

Dear Parents,

After the joy of the holidays comes the dreaded realization that, despite the initially mild weather, winter is definitely here, whether we are ready for it or not! If you're like most parents, the months ahead probably look a bit daunting: what are you going to do with your kids for the next 5 months? Sure, having snowball fights or going sledding is fun, but when the rain pours, the snow gets grey and slushy, or the sun goes down (at 4:00 PM!), kids have no alternative but to stay inside and do whatever they can do to entertain themselves. Once they've finished their homework though it's often probably too dark to play outside, so their playtime is indoors too. Add that to a long day at school cooped up in a classroom and you get a pretty hyper, miserable, and frustrated kid who just wants to run outside and play kick-ball or climb a tree but can't. What's a parent supposed to do?

While there are a lot of things to do inside, most parents let their kids pick whatever they'd like to do-which usually means kids spend their free time either 1) playing video games and/or 2) watching TV. And that free time spent watching TV really adds up: in a year, kids spend at least 20 or more hours a week of TV, video games, or computer time each week-something that experts know isn't such a good thing for kids. The violence on TV and the commercials marketing sugary snacks are bad enough, but even high-quality, kid-friendly "good" TV is bad for kids because they stop moving, playing, and doing other activities. It's no surprise that experts have found that kids who spend 4 or more hours a day watching TV a day tend to be overweight, especially if they if have a TV in their bedroom. Other studies have found that overweight kids whose amount of TV was limited lost weight, even without dieting! That's pretty amazing, especially when you think about how hard you (or any other adult) has to work out and diet just to lose a couple of pounds. Limiting the amount of TV that your kids watch is so tough that a lot of parents don't even try; one study showed that 53% of parents have no rules about TV watching, and only 20% of the parents in the study had any rules that they enforced about TV watching, Those kids whose parents did enforce the rules watched 2 hours LESS TV compared kids without any kind of rules. But how did they do it?

The secret to success is simple: take the TVs out of their rooms, set a daily limit on screen time, and then follow through. Tell your kids they get two hours of screen time (that's computer, video games, andTV time) per day-and then set a timer when they sit down to watch their shows, or whip out the Nintendo DS. When they complain, encourage physical play outside or inside the house or help them figure out what other activities-like board games or reading, for example-might be fun to do. If you have a little bit of time, get them started playing a game, or help them start an art project; they'll love spending the extra time with you, and that alone will make it seem fun to turn off the TV when their time's up. If your kids won't stop complaining that a 2 hour time limit isn't fair, offer to let them earn more screen time-15 minutes, for example-- by playing outside, practicing an instrument, or completing household chores for an hour. That will not only motivate your kiddo to help out around the house, play outside, or practice, it'll also show them that YOU think that those things are much more important than time spent watching TV or video games. That teaching from you will help them to learn to put priority on healthy activities, too-a priority that will help them to stay active and healthy later in life.

So, parents, start your kitchen timers--this year, make it your family's New Year's Resolution to show your kids that TV or video games aren't the only fun they can have. Happy New Year!

Tarayn Alessandra Fairlie, MD, MPH, IBCLC

PGY-I, Family Medicine, Middlesex Hospital

 Email: tarayn_fairlie@midhosp.org