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Healthful habits for enjoying screen time

​​Moderation has much to do with good health. While staying connected can be important, too much connectivity can be detrimental to you and your family's behavior, eating and sleep habits. 

Dad and daughter looking at computerHealthy lifestyle changes can help reduce and manage screen time for everyone's benefit and enjoyment.

"Whenever we spend time watching a screen, such as a computer, mobile device or television, we turn on an area in our brain known as the visual cortex, which processes the images we see," said pediatrician Robert Bullwinkel, M.D.​, Marshfield Clinic Chippewa Falls Center. "If we do this, especially before going to sleep or doing other activities that require more concentration, it can be difficult for this part of our brain to disengage or stop working to allow other areas of the brain to function effectively."

Too much screen time can result in interrupted sleep and difficulty with concentration. "Because spending time in front of a screen is usually a sedentary activity, too much time can also put you at higher risk for obesity," Dr. Bullwinkel said

Screen time habits can form at a young age.

"I advise parents against exposing their children to a flickering screen, which includes television, video games, computers or tablets, before age 2," Dr. Bullwinkel said. "For children older than 2, their average screen time each day should be limited to no more than two hours. By limiting screen time, parents can help establish healthy habits and have a better idea of how much time their children are spending in front of a screen."

Managing screen time may require parents to walk the talk.

"As parents, we need to avoid having a double standard, especially with teens," Dr. Bullwinkel said. "Because access to your phone or other mobile device can be frequent and sporadic, you may not realize the volume of your own screen time and how it affects your family. What feels like one or two minutes here or there adds up."

Physical activity, playing outside or getting involved with group activities outside the home, are good replacements for screen time. "Consider replacing the time watching television before bedtime with reading or establishing some family time that doesn't include the TV or computer," Dr. Bullwinkel said. "Board games, puzzles or other quiet games are good alternatives."

Screen time content also matters. "Watching violent programming with a lot of action and quick cuts between scenes can affect a person's behavior over time," Dr. Bullwinkel said. "Not providing access to the television or computer in the bedroom is a way to help monitor content and how time is spent."

Screen time does provide a connection to other people and this makes it an important tool.

"We enjoy watching television and using computer and mobile devices," Dr. Bullwinkel said. "Being aware to moderate our use will promote a healthy lifestyle for ourselves and will teach our children to do the same."