Screen Time Before Bed Linked to Higher BMIs in Kids

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I remember a phrase from the average stay at home housewife from the 1950s —“I don’t just sit around and eat Bon Bons all day!”

Defending herself for what she was legitimately doing to run a household and to keep things running, she most likely felt judged for any idle time that might lead to her seeming unfit. And to be gender-fair, many men acknowledge they have a “beer gut,” attributed to long weekends on the couch, game day snacks and more time in front of the television than in the yard.

But now, these physical woes of generations gone by are sneaking up on us again! Recent studies show that the logged-on minutes our children spend, especially before bedtime, can contribute to a higher body mass index (BMI), let alone interrupted sleep and school performance.  

It’s tempting to let our children enjoy staying up late to message friends on Oovoo, play video games, or fiddle on their smartphones, but Penn State researchers suggest that our use of digital devices before bedtime contributes to sleep and nutritional difficulties.

Because of this, our kids seem to have a poorer quality of sleep leading to more fatigue and irritability in the morning. These same kids (and parents) also seemed to have a higher body mass index and even speech delays. Whether it was due to poor sleep or inactivity, either suggestion pointed toward the similar component — the use of technology. So what can parents do in this new age of Bon Bons and Beer Gut?  

3 Preventative Things Parents Can Do to Encourage Healthy BMIs in Kids

  1. Take the Screens Outside
    When your child has learned the latest moves from their favorite basketball player on the latest video game, encourage them to take it outside to the hoops and show you what they've learned. Use this as a time for exercise, enjoying the outdoors and some one-on-one family time. This may serve as an opportunity to value your child’s interests that exist online. Let it be a bonding time too.
  2. Enjoy Halftime
    The middle of the game usually serves as a time to take a break. Implement your own halftime, pause for a seventh inning stretch, or take a time out when spending time with your child who is playing online. See if you can instill a “pause” in their game where you can talk about what they are playing. Ask them about their strategy. When you show interest in their world, you may have the ability to influence it.
  3. Initiate a "Rain Delay"
    Sometimes it's just not a good time to continue playing on a device because the game or light stimulation makes it hard to fall asleep. The addictive nature of playing another level interrupts the other tasks that need to be completed, and these other tasks are often not as interesting. A “rain delay” implies that we can get back to the game at some point, but just not right now. This pause can be helpful for kids and families who are learning to take a break without threatening their screen time.  

We know that screen time interrupts homework. We know that screen time interrupts family time. And we know that it’s really hard to fall asleep when bells and dings keep going off on our personal devices.

The American Academy of Pediatrics supports these results and recommends that parents should create healthy boundaries with them about the use of technology, which include things such as the requirement for their children to put away their devices during meal time and turning the devices off at night, and/or keeping cell phones out of their bedrooms at night time.

Parents should create a Family Media Contract and also look at their own behaviors and disciplines, examining whether or not their cell phone is at the dinner table or sleeping in bed with them. Once we can do this honestly, perhaps we can begin to take a stand with our children, setting limits and boundaries.  

A seventh inning stretch is a welcome tradition. Halftime is a time to talk. The end of a game means a long ride home with cuddled up kids in the back seat. It’s not such a bad thing to take the game outdoors and create something wonderful together when the game gets unplugged. But, at some point you have to unplug it!

About Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD

Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD is a psychotherapist in Southern California with private practices in Santa Monica and Malibu. She helps parents, children, couples and individuals. A graduate of UCLA and Fuller School of Psychology, Dr. Miller also is involved in school-based education and consultation, an adjunct faculty member of the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Psychology, a wife, mother, and stepmother. 

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