Turning Screen Time to Play Time


12 ways to add activity to your child’s day.

Digital devices keep kids entertained while you catch up on chores or just catch your breath. However, in our increasingly online world, widespread use of electronics among children raises concerns with child development experts.

“Being sedentary increases the risk of high blood pressure and obesity, even in children,” says Sarah Messiah, PhD, MPH. Dr. Messiah is a life course epidemiologist and early childhood researcher in the Mailman Center for Child Development, part of the University of Miami Health System.

In fact, research links media use in young children with delayed language skills. Too much electronic interaction seems to affect socialization skills as well. According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), kids who spend two to four hours daily on electronics (apart from schoolwork) are 23 percent less likely to finish their homework.

The bottom line? Children and teens need screen-free time. Here are Dr. Messiah’s ideas for getting kids off the couch:

  1. Model healthy habits. Alternate your own media use with unplugged activities and exercise regularly. Children learn by watching and communicating with parents. Engage in active play with little ones and board games, sports or outdoor fun with older children. You might also volunteer to coach your child’s sports team.
  2. Set limits. Establish media-free zones such as the family dinner table. Blue light from digital devices disrupts sleep-wake cycles – ban them from children’s bedrooms or use your Internet provider’s pause command for family electronics. Depending on age, children need between 8-12 hours of sleep nightly. Sleep hygiene can start even at young ages and has been found to be an important protective factor against unhealthy weight gain.
  3. Use a timer. Tell your child how much screen time they have before they must switch to a different activity. Then set a timer. Additional time could be earned through chores, reading or other unplugged pursuits.
  4. Mix it up. Six to 14-year-olds aren’t interested in exercise classes, so take advantage of Miami-Dade County parks. Go hiking, biking, swimming or kayaking as a family. When kids come home from school, don’t immediately launch into homework. Allowing time for play and movement improves their focus and patience for homework later.
  5. Move after meals. Go for walks or ride bikes after dinner instead of watching TV or playing video games.
  6. Limit the electronic babysitter. TVs and video games may keep youngsters quiet, but they also need to learn to solve problems, handle emotions and overcome boredom. Take time to communicate with your children and teach them strategies for dealing with difficult situations.
  7. Active duties. Add physical jobs (dog walking, yard work, vacuuming) to your child’s chore list.
  8. Don’t opt out. Avoid opting your children out of physical education classes, even if the school allows parents to exercise that option. If your child feels awkward about P.E., boost their confidence with yoga, dance or martial arts classes after school or on weekends.
  9. Provide active toys. Balls, jump ropes and hula hoops work well for younger children; skateboards, bikes, skates, and surfboards may satisfy pre-teens and teens.
  10. Active vacations. Plan a camping, hiking, kayaking, sailing or horseback riding vacation to get your family moving. Or, mix in several activities to keep each day new and different.
  11. Schedule downtime. Unstructured, unplugged time stimulates creativity and imagination.
  12. Have a plan. Download the AAP’s Family Media Use Plan tool.



Nancy Moreland is a contributing writer for the UMiami Health News Blog. She has written for several major health care systems and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her writing also appears in the Chicago Tribune.