Fitness, Life Balance

How Parents Can Intercept the Xbox: Fitness & Offline Fun for Kids

Next time you are at a family restaurant you may observe something that is a little different.  Traditionally families that go out to dine together talk and share stories, but increasingly whether it is at home, at a restaurant or while shopping, children are figuratively glued to their mobile devices or to at-home game systems.  Things certainly have changed. While some studies suggest that playing console games like Minecraft™ allow children to develop creative, spatial and architectural skills, health experts are reflecting on the increased rates of child obesity in North America, which appear to be growing in tandem with gaming habits.   The preoccupation with mobile devices and media is having a social impact on children as well, and can impact their cognitive development. 

Read: “Unplug! Your Children’s Future Depends On It” by Jennifer Moses, for TIME Magazine.

During summer vacations or holiday season, it is even harder to deter children from indulging in excessive screen time.  In fact, the busier we get as adults, the more likely we are to allow children to spend hours engaged with video games, instead of other healthier creative and physically active alternatives.  We know that a sedentary lifestyle presents serious long-term health risks, but are we inadvertently raising generations of future adults with poor fitness habits?

Healthy Kids Are Un-Plugged

Children who engage in two hours or more of daily screen time (mobile or game console use) are at a higher risk of physiological and mental health issues, including:

  • Sleep deprivation and unhealthy sleep habits
  • Attentional disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Obesity
Every parent should sit one-full hour with their children and watch the commercials that play during popular television shows.  The food, snacks and beverages that are advertised during youth programs are not healthy, and popularize junk food, high sodium treats, high-sugar breakfast cereals, soda and juice beverages and more.  The American Psychological Association attributes part of the child obesity epidemic with junk food advertising. You are what you eat, but for impressionable children, you also “eat what you watch”.  Creating a demand for non-nutritious foods and fast- food culture, combined with increasing screen time and reduced outdoor fitness opportunities has contributed to an obesity epidemic for American children.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 12.7 million children aged 2-19 years in the United States were obese in 2015.

What Can Parents Do?

Children learn by example, and as much as we instruct them to “go outside and play”, if we do not model a healthy lifestyle, children do not learn to appreciate a balance between fitness and sedentary activities.   We have to lead our children to positive health outcomes by providing a healthy example, and engaging in fun, fit activities that the whole family will enjoy. Here are some ‘interception’ ideas to reduce screen-time in your home:

Set a schedule for limited screen time during holiday periods when children are more likely to over indulge (i.e., summer).
Consider allowing children to “earn” screen time, after completing fitness activities.
Schedule family fitness and stick to a schedule that allows children to be physically active for at least 1-2 hours per day.
Consider a screen curfew. Ensure that children are not staying up late on their tablets or mobile phones.   Studies show that nighttime use of mobile devices can dramatically impact the quality of sleep children (and adults) receive.
Pinterest offers a wealth of affordable, fun ideas to keep children active all year long.  Explore some healthy suggestions and boards that will inspire you to get creative with some thoughtful, affordable games, educational activities and fitness challenges.   Or turn screen time into fitness time, by finding fun workouts on YouTube.

If you have a family fitness tip, leave us a comment below, or email us at: Info@RobKellerMD.com

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