At the Jimenez household in Greer, TV is off-limits on weekdays for 14-year-old Emma Grace and 12-year-old Harrison.
The rule is no TV during the week at the Boyd home as well.
Both sets of parents have made the conscious choice to limit their children’s screen time, even though it sometimes makes them unpopular.
“I made that decision because I wanted my kids to be motivated to do homework or go outside,” said Cheri Jimenez.
“But I think it’s helped them with their sports and health-wise, getting exercise, being outside, and having personal interactive time with the family.”
“If we put them in front of the TV, they would watch all day,” adds Kensey Boyd, mother to 4-year-old Piper and 2-year-old Greta. “But we want them playing with each other and not glued to a screen.”
Seven hours a day
The American Heart Association estimates that children between 8 and 18 spend more than seven hours a day with screen technology.
And whether it’s computers, smartphones, tablets, video games or TV, too much screen time means too much inactivity, which can lead to heart disease, obesity and other illnesses, according to the association.
So the group just issued a statement calling on parents to limit their children’s screen time to no more than one to two hours a day.
“Given that most youth already far exceed these limits, it is especially important for parents to be vigilant about their child’s screen time, including phones,” said Tracie A. Barnett, a researcher with Canada’s INRS-Institut Armand Frappier and Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center and the chair of the group that wrote the statement.
“Ideally, screen-based devices should not be in bedrooms, especially because some studies have found that having screen-based devices in the bedroom can affect sleep,” she said.
“Maximize face-to-face interactions and time outdoors,” she added. “In essence: Sit less; play more.”
The heart association guidelines echo limits called for by the American Academy of Pediatrics, said Dr. Jeremy Pickell of Parkside Pediatrics in Greenville.
“Parents need to set defined limits on screen time for kids,” he said. “More screen time leads to sedentary behaviors which can lead to higher BMI (body mass index), and high blood pressure and diabetes into adulthood.”
It’s also important that children don’t substitute screen time for being outside and playing, he said.
“Physical activity for children overall equates to better health,” he said.
Leading by example
Parents can help by setting a good example with their own screen use and by establishing screen time rules, the heart association says.
Cheri Jimenez and her husband, Paul, decided that something needed to change when Emma Grace was in kindergarten and raced through her homework to watch TV. So either homework would be rushed or there would be haggling over when she could start watching.
“It was always a back-and-forth battle, even with a first-grader,” Cheri Jimenez said. “And I heard a lot that she didn’t have any homework. So 10 ... years ago, we decided there would be no TV during the week.”
As technology advanced and the children got older, that rule extended to computer games as well, she said. And cellphones must be plugged in downstairs at night, she said, adding there is no technology in their bedrooms.
“Since we’re so rigid during the week, the weekends are a little more lax,” she said. “But we never allow the kids to sit and watch TV all day.”
The Jimenez children, both students at Eastside High, are expected to sit down at the table without phones, their mom said. And both are active in sports, often playing basketball in their yard.
“That does have health benefits," she said, "they’re outside, breathing fresh air, and they’re physically active getting exercise.”
Kensey Boyd allows it’s tempting to put the kids in front of the TV in order to get everything done.
Instead, she said, the family takes walks and spends time at the pool.
Piper is involved in gymnastics at school, and she and her sister tumble at home or have half-hour dance parties, Boyd said, noting that both she and her husband, Tripp, have a family history of heart disease.
“We do think about their health in terms of heart disease,” she said. “So we focus our time for being active. We want them to be healthy. And we want them to be engaged with us.
"And that can’t happen if they’re staring at the screen.”
The rules are relaxed at the Boyd home on the weekends, too, to allow up to 90 minutes of morning cartoons. But the rest of the day they’re outside or otherwise active, Boyd said.
A long game
Both women say it can sometimes be a struggle to enforce the rules.
Jimenez said that as basketball fans, for example, the kids are sometimes permitted to watch a game with their father, though it has to be earned.
“I am truly one of the few parents who has this rule and my kids let me know it almost every day. There’s a lot of heartache early on because you’re the only one,” said Jimenez, who was also raised with limited TV privileges.
“The one thing I would say to parents is that it has to be a commitment you’re willing to stand with," she added. "It’s a long game, not a short game.”
Boyd said that she and her husband didn’t watch a lot of TV growing up because their parents pushed them to use their imaginations to play and be active, and they want that for their children, too.
“I remember begging my parents (both elementary school teachers), saying all my friends have all this stuff, and my parents were like, we’ll get it when we get it,” she said.
“They (her children) do complain sometimes,” she added. “But we just say those are the rules. And that’s how it is.”
Kelly Wilkins, executive director of the American Heart Association in Greenville, said limiting screen time is no easy task.
"But, we are hopeful parents will take these guidelines to heart and get moving more as a family," she said.
"The AHA’s new mission is to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives, and that mission is impossible if we don’t make the health of our kids a priority.”