Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

5-2-1-0: Learning '2' limit screen time

8/29/2016 by Abbie Fordahl, RN


The 5-2-1-0 program provides parents with a simple guide and tips for helping their kids reach and maintain a healthy weight and overall wellness. "2" stands for limiting screen time to two hours a day. 

Screen time. That's watching television, playing video games, using computer applications, and interacting on tablets. Why should parents be concerned about that? Research shows that screen time is associated with less physical activity, eating more processed snacks, lack of or poor-quality sleep; all of which are all linked to a greater risk for obesity and diseases like diabetes. 

3 myths about screen time

There are many reasons parents give for screen time being a default or habit, such as: 

  • Myth #1: It's easy and convenient to use screen time, such as a video, as a "babysitter." But kids coming off a "screen high" is equivalent to them coming down from a "sugar high."
  • Myth #2: It's educational. Research shows that unless an adult is watching with them, kids lack the social connection to help them make sense of what they're viewing and the world around them. 
  • Myth #3: It helps my child focus. Research has shown a link between screen time and attention deficit disorder (ADD). If your child can focus on hours of television, video and computer games, but can't sit still during school or classroom time, it could be a sign of ADD. 

Cutting down on screen time: How to get started 

Screen time isn't a given, and parents can take control. One of the best ways is to approach this goal as a family. Here are some questions you might discuss: 

  • What is screen time for your family? 
  • When is it available each day and for how long? 
  • What are some other choices for healthy activities you could do as a family? Some options might be games, music, sports, outdoor activities or crafts. 

These three creative techniques can help you take control and cut down on your child's (and your own!) screen time: 

  1. Use a checklist. The kids must complete three or more before screen time.
    • Read for 20 minutes
    • Play outside or do a craft of project for 30-60 minutes
    • Finish homework, including math problems
    • Write in a journal for 10 minutes
    • Complete an assigned chore
    • Clean their room and make the bed
  2. Get engaged with making media choices
    • Designate bedrooms as "screen-free zones"
    • Use screens sparingly with kids two and under
    • Choose age-appropriate and quality shows, games and apps
    • Stay involved with the kids' screen-time habits by viewing with them
    • Create a reward plan with firm, but reasonable rules about family media use
    • Make a "no screens during meals" rule
    • Identify a "family fun space" for doing crafts, putting on plays, playing board games or cards -- with no screens allowed
  3. Designate a weekly "Unplugged Day"
    • Set an example: meditate, journal, read or exercise
    • Identify that evening as board game night
    • Make supper together as a family
    • Buy pedometers for the family and see who gets the most steps in that day

Decide what the reward should be (not more screen time!).

Reaching and maintaining a life-long healthy weight for everyone in your family is a great goal -- and it's doable! Your Care Team can provide you with more down-to-earth information and tips that even busy families can work into their schedules. 

If you'd like to do more reading about screen time, these are excellent resources: 

Abbie Fordahl, RN, works in Primary Care Internal Medicine (PCIM). In 2013, she completed a Master's degree in education, and her practicum focused on childhood obesity. She has two daughters, age 6 and 2, whose healthy choices include scouting for frogs, swimming, taking care of chickens on their grandparents' farm, and eating salads.