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Limit Screen Time With TimesUpKidz!

Friday, October 23, 2009 Posted by Travis Saunders



It's not often that Peter and I come across a an exercise product that actually makes sense.  The GoWear Fit Armband was one, and pedometers are another.  In contrast to the many gimmicks that we have reviewed in the past, these useful products tend to be simple, evidence-based, and easy to implement.  Earlier this week I came across another product which I feel holds quite a bit of promise, and it is enthusiastically titled TimesUpKidz!.

TimesUpKidz! is a program which allows you to limit how much time individual users can spend on any computer.  It is aimed at limiting time for children, but I see no reason why it couldn't be used for adults as well.  You decide how much time a person is allowed to use the computer on any given day of the week, and during what hours.  Further, you can set mandatory breaks, such as a 15 minute break following every continuous hour of computer time.  Once the time limit is exceeded, users are locked out of the computer for a specifically designated period of time.



 



Although I have not tried this product (nor do I have any children on whom to test it), it is appealing to me for several reasons.  It is simple, cheap ($29.95 USD) and likely to have a very measurable impact on screen time.  This last point is key, given the strong relationship between screen time and health risk in children.

For example, Drs Amy Mark and Ian Janssen examined the relationship between screen time and the metabolic syndrome in a representative sample of 1800 American adolescents in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).  Screen time was measured by self-report questionnaire, and included all time spent watching TV, playing video games, and using a computer. The metabolic syndrome (a cluster of risk factors which predisposes to both diabetes and cardiovascular disease) was defined as having 3 or more of the following: high triglycerides, high fasting glucose, high waist circumference, high blood pressure and low HDL cholesterol.

What did they find?  The risk of having the metabolic syndrome increased with screen time, such that individuals with the highest amount of screen time (> 5 hours/day) had three times the risk of those with less than one hour/day.  Additionally, eight percent of the youth who accumulated greater than 5 hours/day of screen time had the metabolic syndrome - that's huge!  Remember, these are adolescents - they should not have 3 or more risk factors for serious chronic diseases like diabetes or cardiovascular disease!  And screen time was self-reported, which tends to under-estimate negative behaviors like screen-time, so it is possible that the true relationship between screen time and metabolic risk may be even stronger than the one observed in this study.

There is now a wealth of evidence suggesting that screen time is something that we should need to limit for everyone, but especially for children and youth.  So in the absence of hard data, I am willing to go out on a limb and say that TimesUpKidz! and similar programs like Computer Time that make it impossible for children to spend too much time in front of at least one screen could be quite useful in reducing screen time, and time spent in sedentary behaviors.  Now of course children could fill their time with other sedentary activities, but limiting one opportunity for screen time is better than nothing at all.  I haven't used any of these programs myself, so if you have, feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below.  For more information on TimesUpKidz!, please visit their website here.

Have a great weekend,

Travis

ResearchBlogging.orgMark, A., & Janssen, I. (2008). Relationship between screen time and metabolic syndrome in adolescents Journal of Public Health, 30 (2), 153-160 DOI: 10.1093/pubmed/fdn022

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3 Response to "Limit Screen Time With TimesUpKidz!"

  1. Todd I. Stark Said,

    Good idea in general, though you have to be somewhat flexible with it at times I think, depending on your own home situation. Also it will likely backfire if just used by itself without setting expetations and rules appropriately as well. It will enforce time limits, but they have to adjust their habits so they know when they are getting kicked off and learn to prepare ahead of time and budget their time. If you just have software kick children off unceremoniously, they will view it as an arbitrary draconian measure and work very hard to find ways to get around it or get back at you. If they know what is happening and why, and learn skills to deal with the limitations, it helps them find more constructive ways of dealing with it. Ok, sometimes.

    I've used this approach in the past when my children were younger with varying success. They initially complain bitterly, but eventually learn to live within the limitations for games and leisure activity. I found that I had to make some exceptions for letting them use the computer for late homework.

    However as the computer came to represent more and more of their social life as well as their solo leisure time, they started to complain that it was hurting their social life to be forced to be out of contact completely so much of the time. For a while, the computer had come to replace the phone as a way of staying in touch with people, which changed the landscape a bit.

    As social networking has come to again be more phone-based, maybe this has become less of an issue.

    My conclusion: If you're clever enough to use this kind of software effectively to help kids use their time better, you probably don't need it. But it may well help for some.

    Posted on October 23, 2009 at 2:54 PM

     
  2. Wellescent Health Blog Said,

    While this program will likely remind you that your child has been locked out when they express their vocal frustration at being cut off mid sentence while chatting with friends or when hearing their favorite character being swallowed by the bad guy in the video game, it does not address the real problem.

    Children and people in general need alternative ways to spend their time so that more often than not, the time spent on the computer is the time left after doing other activities. If a child can run around outside, be involved in outdoor activities, athletics, drama or even building something in the garage, then the time on computer is much less of a problem.

    Posted on October 24, 2009 at 1:20 PM

     
  3. Travis Saunders Said,

    @ Todd,

    Thanks for the comment, I was hoping a parent would share their views. The websites for this type of software often suggest that one of the benefits is that it takes the focus off the parent as the "bad guy/enforcer", since they are not the ones telling the child that their computer time is over. What do you think?

    @ Wellescent Health Blog,

    I agree with you, but I also think it is worth placing barriers between children and sedentary behaviors. I remember seeing an abstract recently which suggested that when opportunities for physical activities and sedentary activities are equal, kids will usually choose the sedentary behavior. But the more barriers there are between the kids and sedentary behaviors, the more likely they are to choose active behaviors instead. It seems to make sense to come at this from both sides.

    Travis

    Posted on October 25, 2009 at 11:12 PM

     

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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.

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