Screen Time and Obstacles to Physical Activity

Screen Time and Obstacles to Physical Activity


children running and playing in a park



Helping your child stay healthy by keeping them physically active and spending less time in front of screens is a fabulous decision. Here are some ideas to help you both succeed.

What is screen time?

Screen time is one of the biggest obstacles to physical activity for children.

Screen time is the time children spend looking at or using electronic screens. This includes watching a TV, computer, tablet or smartphone, and playing video games or hand-held computer games.

Screen time keeps children seated for long stretches of time, which means it stops them from getting the physical activity they need. Children are not born with the habit to sit and watch screens; this is something they learn to do by watching and listening to others. Children form screen time habits from an early age.

Setting limits on screen time

A healthy family lifestyle includes setting and sticking to limits on daily screen time:

  • Children under two years shouldn’t have screen time at all.
  • Children aged 2-5 years should have no more than one hour a day of screen time.
  • Children over five should have no more than two hours a day.

Different rules and limits work for different families. Here are some ideas for setting positive screen time habits that might work for your family:

  • Set limits on after-school screen time – for example, one TV program, and then outside to play.
  • Have a few “screen free” days each week.
  • Record favourite TV shows and watch them at times that don’t compete as much with active play – for example, when it’s dark.
  • Talk to other adults who supervise your child about your limits on screen time. For example, if your child visits a friend’s house, you could ask the friend’s parent to let you know how much screen time your child has there. Then you can adjust how much screen time your child can have at home that day.
  • Limit how much TV or other screen activity is “in the background”. If the TV is on in the background, it can still interfere with socializing and concentration.

When you’re keeping track of how much screen time your child has, it’s important to count time spent using computers, tablets and other devices for school and homework.

Some types of video games involve children being up and moving. Although these games are more active than simply sitting, they don’t replace the benefits of active outdoor play.

Strollers and infant seats

Sitting in strollers and infant seats for too long can make it difficult for toddlers and babies to be active. Where possible let your child walk instead of being in a stroller or infant seat.

You can read more ideas for physical activity for younger children.

Space for physical activity

The environment around your home can play a big role in keeping you and your family active.

For example, you may or may not have a lot of play space at your home, worry about the safety in your neighbourhood, or have schools and shops that aren’t within a comfortable walking distance of home.

To overcome some of these obstacles you could:

  • take your child to a park, sports field, beach, friend’s or family member’s house, library, school, community centre or other place with space to play
  • talk to neighbours with other young children about sharing supervision outside or on the street
  • park or get off the bus a little bit further away than you need to, and walk the rest of the way together with your child to your destination

Work schedules

Busy work schedules can also get in the way of finding time to play outdoors with your children.
It might be helpful to talk with other parents or people in your neighbourhood about helping each other overcome this. For example, you could take turns to supervise a group of children playing actively outside on different days.

© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.

Resources & Links:

Physical Activity for Children and Teenagers
Fitness: Getting and Staying Active

Last Updated: November 30, 2014