Flip the Switch on Screen Time: Eight Tips

By Daniel Hatcher | Posted on June 23, 2015

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screen time for kids be limited to one or two hours a day. Children who watch more than two hours of TV a day are more likely to be overweight and often suffer from irregular sleep patterns.


Screen-Time-Blog-EducationResearch shows that in addition to improved health, physical activity actually supports better learning in school. When kids are physically active, they perform better academically, have better attendance and their behavior improves.

That’s why the National AfterSchool Association Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) Standards reference “not permitting access to television or movies” and encourage out-of-school programs to provide opportunities for physical activity rather than screen time. Screen time just means time spent on television, movies, computers, games and/or web-browsing. 

Limiting screen time in your park and recreation summer and out-of-school time programs can be a challenge, especially on inclement-weather-days. What about educational programs? Perhaps your program occasionally shows short videos as part of an anti-bullying project or maybe you lead a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program. Kids need to use a screen to learn coding right?

Here’s the deal. What’s important about this standard is limiting unnecessary screen time. It’s about ensuring that if screen time is used, it is balanced with physical activity time.

Are you ready to flip the switch on screen time? Try one (or all) of these tips!

1. Consider making your own hour glass or having a student or camper write a computer program for one. Take a physical activity break every 20 minutes. Use task cards or DIY activities to get kids moving. Try to think of other ways for students to use technology skills to encourage the use of frequent energizers. Perhaps a student could make an application for your program that features favorite games? 


Screen-Time-Blog-Number-22. Use screens for movement. Try our Fit for a Healthier Generation videos. If students are interested in videography, encourage them to make their own short clips. If they need ideas for activities, encourage them to pick from Classroom and AfterSchool Energizers.

3. Never use screens as a reward. It’s easy to default to using screen time as a reward, often in conjunction with unhealthy foods. Resources like Constructive Classroom Rewards provides a list of fun and healthy rewards.

4. Set a good example. Research shows that most parents do not set rules for watching TV, playing video games or using the computer. The same research shows that when media rules are set, use is almost three hours per day. Your park and recreation summer or out-of-school time program provides an excellent opportunity to help children work towards physical activity goals while reducing screen time. Share screen time practices with families. Send home physical activities such as Activity Works – At Home.

5. Create a viewing calendar. If you utilize TV or movies for educational purposes, mark those on the calendar. Make sure children know why you’re utilizing the TV and that it is to be turned on only for that specific purpose. If possible, encourage movement during the program such as standing up and sitting down when certain words are used. Not using the TV for educational purposes? Unplug it and tape a fun outdoor-related picture to the screen.

6. Challenge yourself and others to be creative. Remember when screen time was used as filler? Forget the days when having a substitute teacher meant watching a movie! Find easy-to-use physical activity games and resources in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Resource Database. Try the Playworks Playbookfor active indoor games. Give staff the support they need; add learning a new game to your next staff meeting. Staff will have more fun and leave with a new tool.


Screen-Time-Blog-Number-77. Make the most of rainy days. Bad weather got you stuck indoors? Rather than using the TV or big screen to entertain kids with shows or cartoons, get kids moving and let them have fun. A great resource to try is GoNoodle. Kids can race, jump, stretch, dance or even relieve stress with a few yoga poses.

8. Be honest with kids about food advertising. Seeing snack foods, candy, soda and fast food on TV affects all of us, especially children. Help children understand that just because food is on TV, even if their favorite TV characters eat or drink it, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Try the empowerme4life activity, My Alternatives to Screen Time (page 78), to start the conversation. 

For resources to flip the switch on screen time and get kids up and moving, visit healthiergeneration.org.


Is your park and recreation agency implementing the HEPA standards in out-of-school time programs? Find out more about Commit to Health and make the pledge


Do you have a tip for reducing screen time in your park and recreation summer camp or after school program? Share it in the comments below or tweet it to @NRPA_News, @healthiergen, @hatchdw using #CommitToHealth


Daniel Hatcher, is the National Healthy Out-of-School Time Advisor for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation