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How much is too much television or computer time?

You've seen the stare — that glassy, far away look focused on the computer screen, or on the unending kaleidoscope of colors from the cable cartoon channel. Sometimes electronic entertainment can be a nice diversion, but too much screen time can lead to a sedentary lifestyle and obesity, high blood pressure and even diabetes. So how much is too much and what can you do to limit it?

In their 2010 study, "Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8 to 18-Year-Olds," the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And, because they use more than one medium at a time, they pack 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7.5 hours. You can read the entire report here: http://www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/8010.pdf.

So what can you do to limit screen time?

Make it a family rule. Set certain hours to be screen free — no texting, computers, games or television — and make sure Mom and Dad participate too. Eat dinner together with only music in the background instead of the television, and make talking with each other a priority. Have everyone share the highlights of their day and discuss upcoming plans.

Get moving. Try activities like walking the dog or going to the park. Train for a 5k together (http://www.arkansasrunner.com/), take your dog to obedience school, get involved in a group at church or join a sports team.

DIY. There are always projects to do around the house, or you can come up with a fun project to do together. These should be fun things you can do together instead of household chores. Use chalkboard or whiteboard paint on one wall of a child's bedroom to make a creative center that everyone can enjoy, or learn how to knit or make friendship bracelets.

Get cooking. Not only should you eat dinner together; you should prepare dinner together. Cooking teaches children about healthy ingredients, and prepares them to be more independent. You can also use kitchen time to make snacks for later (http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/feeding/healthy-eating/the-20-best-snacks-for-kids/) and even dog treats (http://www.dailypuppy.com/articles/easy-dog-treat-recipes_754.html).

"Good" night. Ban anything with a screen from your child’s room to avoid information overload and unmonitored television watching. For more information, see the recent study conducted by Seattle Children’s Hospital on how electronic media affects sleep (http://www.seattlechildrens.org/Press-Releases/2011/Studies-Examine-Impact-of-Media-Use-Among-Youth,-Recommend-Preventative-Measures/).

How do you handle television and computer time? Share with us on Facebook and Twitter.

August 2011