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Child's Level of Physical Activity, Parental Limits Influence Daily Screen Time


The amount of exercise a child gets and the consistency with which parents enforce limits on a child's screen time influence how much television a child watches, suggests a recent study. (Carlson, et al. 2010)

Factors affecting screen time 

Level of physical activity is linked with lower screen time.  Children on sports teams were less likely to exceed recommended screen time limits.  The odds that a child would exceed screen-time limits decreased as the number of physical activity sessions, free-time and/or organized activities, increased. In other words, the more physically active the child, the less of a couch potato he is.

Boy playing on laptop computerScreen time increases dramatically with age: only 16.7% of 9- to 10-year old children reported screen time exceeding the two hour per day limit recommended by experts, while 38.9% of 14- to 15-year-olds went over the limit.

The number of children/teens reporting minimal screen time drops dramatically with age: The number of children with daily screen time of less than 30 minutes per day declined with age: while 38.9% of children aged 9 to 10 reported minimal daily screen time, only 18.2% of children aged 14 to 15 years  reported screen time of less than one-half hour per day.  Children in homes where parents set limits on screen time were more likely to watch less than 30 minutes a day and less likely to warch more than 120 minutes of television.

Cable television linked to increased screen time.  The presence of cable television in the home (76.9% of parents reported having cable) was associated with children exceeding screen time limits.

Screen-time limit disconnect: Less than half (49.2%) of parents reported that they always or very often placed limits on the time their children could watch television; less than four in ten (37.1%) of children readily agreed that their parents set screen-time limits. Perception is reality: that fewer kids believe their parents are setting screen-time limits than parents think they are suggests that parents either that parents are not being honest with themselves or aren't doing a good enough job communicating the rules to their kids.

Lack of parental knowledge, family income, ethnicity, gender, linked to increased screen time.  Boys, children of black race/ethnicity, children from lower-income families, and from families where parents were not aware of  the recommended limit of no more than two hour of quality media time per day were more likely to exceed the limits than other groups.

Screen time linked to negative behaviors, health

The viewing of screen media (television, video games, and computers for non-school-related use) has been associated with:

  • youth alcohol use;
  • early sexual activity;
  • negative body image;
  • eating disorders;
  • less sleep; 
  • attention problems;
  • aggressive behaviors;
  • lower educational achievement and involvement;
  • higher body mass index (BMI) and obesity;
  • lower likelihood of eating fruits and vegetables; and
  • higher likelihood of eating candy, fast food, drinking soda, and skipping breakfast

The content of media can have effects independent of screen time. Greater screen time increases children's exposure to content that is violent, sexual, glorifies substance use, and advertises unhealthy foods, all of which may contribute to negative outcomes for children.

Total screen time and media violence exposure have been associated with higher risk of:

  •  victimization
  • aggressive behavior and bullying
  • lower attachment to parents and peers; and 
  • later risk behaviors.
Weekday screen time and video game use is not only associated with poorer academic performance, but viewing R-rated content also increases the odds of poor academic performance. 

Parental media monitoring has many positive effects

The good news, says a new study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics (Gentile, et al. 2014), is that parental involvement in monitoring children's media has immediate and long-term effects on a wide range of children's physical, social, and academic health outcomes.

Building on previous studies, researchers found a link between increased parental monitoring and:

  • increased weekly sleep (increased monitoring results in more sleep)
  • improved school performance
  • reduced total screen time (TST) (television, video games, and online computer time)
  • increased prosocial behavior (e.g. being helpful to peers)
  • lower aggressive behavior (e.g. child hits or kicks peers)
  • lower media violence exposure


The Pediatrics study recommends programs to:

  • educate parents about recommended screen-time limits;
  • encourage parents to set and enforce consistent limits on screen time;
  • educate children to increase their awareness of the importance of limiting television-viewing time; and
  • promote physical activity alternatives to sedentary scree-time behavior;

Among the key recommendations in the 2013 position statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics is that parents not allow televisions in their kids' bedrooms, and limit total screen time to 1-2 hours a day. 

For its part, noting that nearly 75% of pediatricians feel "some sense of futility" in making the AAP recommendations (Gentile DA, et al. 2011), the JAMA Pediatrics study recommends providing health care professionals with more specific recommendations to provide parents details about four different types of monitoring:

  1. co-viewing with the child;
  2. restricting the amount of time
  3. restricting the types of content; and
  4. actively discussing the meaning and effects of media content with children, including offering opinions of media content, educating children about the purpose of various media (e.g. advertising), or providing guidance and explanations.  


Carlson, Susan A.  "Influence of Limit-Setting and Participation in Physical Activity on Youth Screen Time," Pediatrics 126, no. 1 (July (2010): e89-e96. 

Gentile DA, Reimer RA, Nathanson AL, Walsh DA, Eisenmann JC. Positive Effects of Parental Monitoring of Children's Media Use: A Prospective Study. JAMA Pediatrics 2014;doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.146 (published online March 31, 2014). 

American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Communications and Media. Children, adolescents, and the media. Pediatrics. 2013;132(5):958-961.doi:10.1542/peds.2012-2656.

Gentile GA, Coyne S, Walsh DA. Media violence, physical aggression, and relational aggression in school age children: a short-term longitudinal study. Aggress Behav. 2011;37(2):193-206. 

Most recently updated April 7, 2014