Limiting TV Time Makes Kids Active

Children Should Have Strict Limits on TV/Computer Time, Researchers Say

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on June 15, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

June 15, 2010 -- Children whose parents set limits on the time their kids are allowed to watch television or spend on a computer are more likely to engage in physical activity than youngsters who are glued to screens without restriction, new research suggests.

The study is published in the July issue of Pediatrics.

Kids whose parents make rules about TV and computer time are less likely to exceed the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommended limits on screen time, the study shows. The AAP says children older than 2 should be allowed no more than one to two hours of “quality entertainment media” per day.

Researchers surveyed both the parents and children in 5,685 households with 7,415 youngsters between 9 and 15.

The kids were asked about their parents’ rules regarding watching TV, playing video games, or playing computer games and also questions about their physical activity. They were told not to include time spent doing schoolwork on computers.

The children also were asked if they went over the time period allowed by their parents.

And parents were asked how often they set limits on screen time.

TV Watching and Physical Activity

Among the findings:

  • More than 27% of youths 9-15 exceeded the recommended limit of screen time.
  • Boys, African-American children, and children from lower-income families exceeded the limit more than other groups.
  • Kids who strongly agreed that their parents had rules about TV time were less likely to exceed the screen time limits.
  • As children spent more time being physically active, whether on organized sports teams or in free-time play, they were less likely to go over screen time limits.
  • Children whose parents always or often set limits on TV time had the lowest prevalence of exceeding recommended limits.
  • Odds that kids would exceed recommended time in front of the tube decreased as physical activity in the past week increased.

The researchers say the biggest differences in reported screen time were associated with age.

  • 16.7% of children 9-10 and 38.9% of children 14-15 reported screen times of more than two hours daily.
  • 38.9% of kids 9-10 and 18.2% of youths 14-15 reported less than a half-hour of screen time.
  • 76.9% of parents said cable TV was available in their homes, and having cable TV was associated with children going over the recommended limits.
  • 49.2% of parents said they always or very often placed limits on TV time. Only 37.1% of children said they “really agreed” that their parents had rules on tube time.
  • Kids who said they “really agreed” that their parents had rules had a higher prevalence of watching less than 30 minutes of TV per day and a lower prevalence of watching more than two hours than the youths who “really disagreed” that their parents had rules.

The researchers say parents and children alike need to be aware that limits are important, and that educating adults about screen time recommendations might promote physical activity of kids.

Rules, the researchers say, are important, because kids as well as parents report less screen time by children who know there are limits.

Show Sources


News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.

Carlson, S. Pediatrics, July 2010; vol 126(1).

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