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Teens and Screen Time

Help teens unplug from computers, TVs, and phones and get active instead.
By Winnie Yu
WebMD Feature

As the parent of a teen, you know that it's not easy for teens growing up in today's media-saturated world. Although kids share the same concerns about school, friends, and fitting in as you did at the same age -- today's teens are never far from their cell phone, computer, TV, or video game console. And that adds up to a lot of distractions that take time away from important things like being physically active and finishing homework.

In fact, according to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, over the past 5 years, kids aged 8 to 18 have increased the amount of time they spend plugged into media by 1 hour and 17 minutes a day -- up from 6 hours and 21 minutes to 7 hours and 38 minutes. That is almost as much time as you spend at work -- except that kids keep at it 7 days a week. How is all this screen time affecting our teenagers?

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"The more time kids spend in front of screens, the more inactive they are," says Gwenn O'Keeffe, MD, a pediatrician and author of CyberSafe: Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming and Social Media (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010). "And it's any kind of screen -- computers, TV, cell phones, or gaming."

The bottom line, experts say, is whether your teen has weight challenges or not, activity helps children feel better, sleep better, and learn better -- so you'll want to get them away from the screen so they can get moving.

Here's what you can do to encourage your teenager to scale back on screen time and become more active.

Reducing Kids' TV, Computer, and Cell Phone Time -- Without a Fight

Try these stress-free strategies with your teen:

Watch your own screen habits. Although your teen may not seem to pay attention to anything you do or say, you are still her most important role model. So you can't tell her to cut back on TV time if you're watching endless hours of TV, texting while you're driving, or eating dinner with your Blackberry on the table.

"You have to watch what you do," says Paul Ballas, DO, a child psychiatrist and medical director of the Green Tree School Clinic in Philadelphia. "Parents who have limited TV habits tend to raise kids who will have limited TV habits." In short, if you set household screen-time rules, you also need to follow them.

Remind teens to limit screen usage. Banning electronics completely isn't realistic these days, but it's important to let your teen know you're paying attention to how much time she's on a screen. "Sometimes, you need to give them a gentle reminder like, ‘Hey, I think you've used enough technology for now -- it's time to get off and do something else,'" O'Keeffe says. "These kids were born digital, so it's up to us to remind them that there's an unplugged world."

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