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Column originally published Dec 24, 2018

Parents Should Encourage Exercise And Limit Screen Time

Question: I am dreading about this coming Christmas and winter. Our ten- and twelve-year-old children are asking for all sorts of electronics and videogames. Our older son used to love hockey, but he stopped playing this year, because he doesn’t like checking. Our daughter used to love dancing, but stopped after she injured her ankle. Our family used to be very active; I met my husband when we were in Canada Games years ago. He is now spending evenings and weekends watching sports on television. I wonder what we should do to get everyone more active and healthy.


You are right to be concerned. You know that physical activity and health are closely related; we need to be active to stay healthy. A healthy body will lead to a healthy mind. Not everyone needs to be an athlete, although there is nothing wrong to be athletic, and pursue sports that interest us. However, all of us need to find something to keep us physically active and healthy.

Society is not helping us. Many jobs require us to stay still, in front of a computer. Research has shown that this sedentary life is bad for our health. Standing desks are becoming more popular. They force us to stand to use the computer; hopefully we can move around more at the same time.

Home entertainment also conspires against us. There are hundreds of channels on television, with almost unlimited number of movies and TV series that we can stream and watch. We can get sports programs from around the world. Binge-watching has become increasingly common.

For many young people (and some adults), playing videogames is their addiction. They can play for hours, often with others across the country or the world, over the internet. Some may skip school, miss work, and ignore their needs and responsibilities. This can be harmful for them and for their family.

Since you and your husband met in Canada Games, I presume both of you were athletic in those years. He is watching sports instead of participating in them. You should explore with him to find activities that both of you can enjoy in different seasons, indoor and outdoor. Working out in gym is good, but may not be every day.

You also need to motivate your children; they will be teenagers very soon. Explore with them activities that are available in your community; it can be individual or team sports, indoor and outdoor. Encourage them to try things, they won’t know until they try.

You should limit the amount of time that they can use electronics. Research has shown that children (and probably adults) should spend two hours or less on screen each day. This, however, does not include the time that they have to do their work or study. They should turn off all screens about one hour before bedtime; the light emitting from screens can affect sleep. Some parents switch off wi-fi in their home at night.

You may want to get all portable electronics, including smartphones, tablets, and videogame controllers, to your bedroom for charging at night. This can prevent them from using electronics when they should be sleeping. Text messages can come anytime, and disturb their sleep. Not getting enough sleep is one of the most important determinant of a child’s health, and success in education.

Before you buy videogames, make sure they are age-appropriate for your children. Set limits before you buy them; it is much harder to do that afterwards. If they don’t have television in their bedroom, it is best not to put one there. It is hard to monitor and control when it is being used.

I also recommend parents to assign chores that children can participate, according to their age and ability. This can be tied to their privilege of using electronics. It is also important for them to finish their homework (and do it well) before they start their entertainment after school.