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How Fit Together Reduces Children’s Screen Time

October 21, 2019

Televisions, videos, hand-held devices, tablets, computers, mobile devices —electronic screens are everywhere. With today’s children and teenagers immersed in digital media, researchers are warning of the negative effects on their development, including issues with memory, attention and language skills.

And that’s not all. Too much or poor quality screen time has been linked to obesity, poor sleeping habits, behavioral problems, loss of social skills, less time for play and even violence.

Screen time also can be educational, leaving parents with the challenge of deciding how best to manage their children’s use of screens and media. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to help their children develop healthy media use habits early, discouraging screen media other than video-chatting for children under 18 months of age, adult supervision of high-quality programming/apps for children 18 to 24 months old, and co-viewing and one-hour screen limits for children older than 2 years. Media-free times and zones are encouraged for all children and teen-agers.

“Screen time is an integral part of the evidenced-based 5-2-1-0 message that we adopted from ‘Let’s Go!,’ a childhood obesity prevention initiative in Maine,” said Carla Angevine, executive director of Fit Together.

Fit Together, a community collaborative, was formed by Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in 2011 with the initial purpose to identify and implement environmental and social improvements in Torrington and Winsted that help make healthy choices for people as easy choices.

This important community health initiative has been growing in part from the support of a five-year, $500,000 grant from Hartford HealthCare as a result of its new affiliation with Torrington’s Charlotte Hungerford Hospital.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization released a set of guidelines that limit, or even eliminate, screen time for children under the age of 5, with the goal of achieving optimal health from birth to adulthood. But limiting screen time is only part of the solution, said the United Nations health agency, noting that children under 5 should also get better quality sleep and have more time for active play if they are to grow up to be healthy adults. This advice directly reflects the goal of Northwest Connecticut’s “Fit Together” community health initiative.

A one-size-fits-all approach to screen time does not work as well as children grow older, and managing media time becomes an ongoing challenge. Carla notes that parents will need to determine how much media their children should use each day and what is appropriate.

Choosing two healthy screen time habits, such as charging all devices in one place, putting devices away when eating or in a restaurant, keeping screens out of your children’s bedrooms, and playing videos, shows and apps with adults, are examples of ways to manage media time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents develop personalized media use plans for each of their children, taking into account each child’s age, health, personality and developmental stage.

Fit Together staff worked closely with Dr. Michael Curi, a pediatrician affiliated with Charlotte Hungerford Hospital and who serves on the boards of Fit Together and the Northwestern Connecticut YMCA, to develop a media plan to help families develop healthy screen time habits. The plan gives helpful hints for screen-free zones, screen-free times, device curfews, media choice and diversification, media manners, digital citizenship, safety, sleep and exercise.

“No plan is going to be the same,” said Angevine, pointing to parents who have required homework or chores be completed before screen time, shutting off tablets after two hours of use or removing phones from the bedroom to improve sleeping habits. “Parents need to do what works best for their family. The key is for parents to involve their children in the media plan to get their buy-in and give them a little bit of choice. It’s also important to remember that the quality of the media is even more important than the type of technology or the time spent in front of a screen.”

Central to all of Fit Together’s initiatives, these “numbers to live by” recommend that children and adults:

  • 5: Eat at least five fruits and vegetables every day.
  • 2: Choose two healthy screen time habits.
  • 1: Do at least one hour of physical activity every day.
  • 0: Do not drink any sugary drinks. Drink water.

For more information about Fit Together and its 5-2-1-0 initiative, click here.  To create your family’s personalized media plan, visit www.healthychildren.org.