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The Screen-Free Challenge: How to Cut Down on Screen Time

Whether it's on a computer, tablet or the television, kids today are getting way too much screen time. Here are six tips to cut back.

Between cell phones, TVs, video games and laptops, it's no surprise that children and teens are spending plenty of time staring at screens. But did you know all that screen time adds up to an average of seven hours each day? Yes, seven hours! That's according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which recommends parents limit their kids' viewing of entertainment media to one to two hours a day.

If trimming TV time sounds overwhelming, these ideas can help you and your family to start powering down – one step at a time.

Designate a screen-free day

Choose one day a week to go screen-less as a family. Encourage your kids to fill their time with other activities like reading, playing board games or just talking with one another.

Start small

If you're not ready for a whole day without a screen, try certain times of the day. For example, maybe the screens are all off after 7 p.m. Or make a family policy that after dinner all the screens are unplugged.

Rethink your watching habits

Instead of turning on the TV to "see what's on," make a plan. So before you flip the switch, decide that you're going to watch one show – and pick out what show you plan on viewing. Then, when the show is over, the TV is off. This can be more difficult with entertainment media online. In these cases, you might consider setting a time limit, for example.

Declare a screen-free zone

Limit screens to certain rooms in your house. Try to pick places where everyone is together, like the family room. The AAP recommends that parents keep TVs out of kids' bedrooms. One reason? Studies show that kids with televisions in their rooms tend to score lower on academic tests.

Discover new hobbies

Replace your TV time with something more active. As family, you might sign up for a recreational sports league or class through your local community center. Or you can look over the events pages for your local or state parks for ongoing activities, special events or even ideas for outings. To get started, ask at your neighborhood library for contact information or check online. Or, search for activities to do at one of the local Metroparks.

Make it into a game

Sit down with your kids to brainstorm a list of cool, convenient activities – like going for a bike ride, visiting a museum, inviting over a friend, learning how to bake a cake, playing catch – whatever they're interested in. Have your child write down each activity on a piece of paper and place these in a jar in front of your TV. When your child has the urge to watch TV, have him or her pick out one of the activities from the jar, instead. Make sure to mix in fun things your child can do on his or her own, along with family ones.

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