Tame the Tube

Families, Food and Fitness May 19, 2011 Print Friendly and PDF

Children spend more time sitting in front of electronic screens (screen time) than in any other activity besides sleeping. This means they spend more time in front of screens than they do in school. The average time spent with various media (television, computer, video games) is more than five hours per day. Even the very youngest children, preschoolers ages 6 and younger, spend as much time with screen media (TVs, video games, and computers) as they do playing outside. That means several hours of inactivity and, in the case of television viewing, hours of exposure to advertising for high-fat, high-calorie foods. Many of these ads are aimed directly at children. Too much screen time affects children’s brains and bodies.

girl holding remote

Children who spend a great deal of time in front of a screen have less time for playing and talking with other children and adults. Language skills are best developed through reading and conversation. Excessive screen time can interfere with growth in this area. Children who watch less television do better in school and perform better on standardized tests.

Perhaps most alarming is the effect of too much screen time on children’s bodies. Most children do not get the recommended amount of physical activity each day, and one reason for this is the number of hours spent inactive in front of a screen. There is a link between overweight in children and television viewing. Children who watch more TV tend to be heavier than children who watch less TV. Children who live in families in which television viewing is a normal part of the meal routine eat fewer fruits and vegetables and more pizzas, snack foods, and sodas.

Ways to Limit Screen Time

1. Plan how much TV you and your family are going to watch. Limit screen time to one to two hours a day. Planning the amount of television you watch and selecting certain shows helps you to get the best out of what television has to offer.
2. Set clear limits and be a good TV role model. Setting limits for the whole family is important. Children need to be taught how to have a good media diet.
3. Choose not to keep the TV on all the time, and instead tune into specific shows. With cable channels numbering well into the hundreds, you could surf for hours and never watch a show. If the TV is on, this is likely to happen. However, if you have a TV plan and you know what shows you are going to watch, the set goes on when that show is on and off when it is over.
4. Get the TV out of the bedroom. Having a television in the bedroom allows children to watch more television unsupervised. The same goes for video games and computers; put these in a common area of the home.
5. Eat together as a family without the TV. Have media-free meals as a family. Turn off the TV, cell phone, pager, and MP3 player, and talk about your day.
6. Make a list of activities you want to do instead of watching TV. Get help from the children to create fun activities to do instead of sitting in front of the television, computer, or video games.
7. Watch with your children. Discuss the shows and the advertising. Help your children learn about the tactics advertisers use to sell unhealthy foods.

For more information: Tame the Tube PDF

Limit TV Viewing Video


U.S. Census Bureau. March 11, 2004. Special edition 50th anniversary of wonderful world of color TV. Retrieved from www.census.gov.

Rideout V., Hamel E. 2006. The media family: Electronic media in the lives of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and their parents. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved from www.kff.org.

National Institute on Media and the Family. 2001. Sixth annual video and computer report card. Retrieved from www.mediaandthefamily.org.

Kaiser Family Foundation. 2002. Key facts: Children and video games. Retrieved from www.kff.org.

Roerts D., Foehr U. 2004. Kids and Media in America. University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Rideout V., Vandewater E., Wartella E. 2003. Zero to six; Electronic media in the lives of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Henry J Kaiser Foundation. Retrieved from www.kff.org.

Coon K.A., Goldberg J., Rogers B.L., Tucker K.L. 2001. Relationships between use of television during meals and children’s food consumption patterns. Pediatrics 107(1):e7.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.