Screen Time and Junk Food

What do you recommend parents do to get their kids more physically active. My son is only 10 years old but he’s getting a gut and is glued to screens of one kind or another all the time, not to mention his interest in junk food. I haven’t encouraged this eating habit but he seems to be picking it up from outside our home. Between the two factors he’s not in the best of shape/health anymore and I’m concerned.

Dear Parent,

I think parents can make a big difference to their “glued to screens, junk food snacking pre-teens” but it often requires patience and persistence from Mom and/or Dad.

Many parents begin by setting limits on screen time. Even when children, especially older ones, use technology for many aspects of their academic and social lives it is possible to expect that screens be turned off during several parts of the day. Morning, dinnertime, and after a certain hour at night are common periods that screens are restricted in many homes.

It can also help to place computers in family areas of the house rather than in private rooms where young people can “lock themselves away” without interruption or supervision.

Turning off screens is usually not enough. It is important to find and arrange for healthy and engaging alternatives at school and/or in the neighborhood as well. Parents need to make sure that the activities they choose are a good match for their particular child.

Engaging in ongoing family physical activities is also particularly important. Visiting parks regularly, bike riding together, or enrolling in family swim are a few of the more common things to do in New York.

Sometimes screens are a substitute for diminishing “fun time” with parents that happens for a variety of reasons as children get older. A pre adolescent is not likely to openly express enthusiasm for attention from his parents but even tweens and teens benefit greatly from time spent with Mom or Dad.

I am sorry to say that resistance to most of these ideas is almost inevitable when a 10-year is wedded to screens. It can make a big difference if parents can figure out ways to talk about their expectations and ideas at a time of day when everyone is relatively calm and relaxed. When moms or dads only express their understandable exasperation in the moments when their child refuses to move, tensions rise and 10 year olds can easily become more “set in their ways.”

Unfortunately the clearest, most patient description of a well thought out plan can easily be met with a classic grunt. I often tell parents to be ready, not surprised, by any opposition, listen to complaints but stay firm and confident remembering that after a relatively brief period of physical activity moody, sedentary children often end up having a good time.

Avoiding prolonged discussion and figuring out how to get out of the house as quickly as possible can also help.

Stocking up on healthy food options and limiting unhealthy choices at home is of course important. Providing plenty of fruits, nuts, nut butters and/or cut up raw veggies with dips can make a difference. Even when children are eating junk food away from home, unfortunately common, if parents can model healthy eating young ones are much more likely to sort through a good diet as they get older.

Have fun eating well and being active with your 10 year old. I believe your patience and persistence will prevail in the end.