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5 Truths About Teens and Screens

Teen using phone in courtyardLove to watch TV? Play video games? Text your friends? It isn't easy to get away from these electronic devices -- and, if you're like most teens, you aren't. The typical teen logs more than seven hours a day and more than 50 hours a week in front of a TV, computer, or cell phone screen, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

No doubt, this screen time can be fun. The problem is that too much screen time can take a toll on teen health and grades. Consider these five important facts:

1. Too Much Screen Time Packs Pounds on Teens

In a 2010 study of teens in the American Journal of Epidemiology, teens who spent the most time in front of a screen had the greatest increase in body fat over time. TV and other screen time replace physical activities you could be doing -- like riding your bike or taking a walk. Seeing TV ads for fast food doesn't help your waistline, either.

Kids who watch more than five hours of TV a day also tend to eat less healthy later in life, according to another study from the University of Minnesota. It's easier to set good habits now while you're still young. The longer you live with habits, the harder they can be to change.

Signs that screen time is taking over your life:

  • You are missing parties and other events.
  • You stay up late to catch a favorite show.
  • You eat meals in front of the TV or computer.
  • You go to bed with the TV on.

What you can do about it:

  • Make plans to see friends regularly.
  • Record shows so you get a good night's sleep.
  • Practice eating at the dinner table, away from the TV and computer.
  • Take the TV and computer out of your room.

2. Cell Phone Texting = Tired Teens

It's tough enough for most teens to hit the sack at a reasonable hour. If you're still sending and receiving text messages after lights out, you're probably depriving yourself of even more of the 8 1/2 hours of sleep you need.

Signs that you're texting too much at night:

  • You are still texting after you've gone to bed.
  • You stay awake anticipating another text.
  • You wake up tired.

What you can do about it:

  • Stash your cell phone outside your bedroom at night.
  • Turn off your cell phone 30 minutes before you go to bed.
  • Mute your cell phone and tuck it somewhere in your room where you can't see it.

3. Playing Violent Video Games Hardens Teens

Sure, video games are fun and thrilling. But video games that involve war, violence, and murder can make you more aggressive and less sympathetic toward other people, according to research from Iowa State University. Playing these games also makes it more likely that you'll do something violent yourself.

Signs you're gaming too much:

  • You are often grumpy and easily angered.
  • You find you have little patience.
  • You get in fights regularly.

What you can do about it:

  • Gradually cut back your video game-playing time.
  • Find friends who'd like to try things that don't involve gaming.
  • Seek out less violent video games.

WebMD Medical Reference