Growing up is not easy. Youth today are concerned about school, friends and fitting in, just as all teens have been across generations.

However, our newest generation must contend with a huge complication: growing up in today’s media-saturated world. Today, none of us are ever far from our cell phones, computers, TVs or video games.

For teens, especially, that adds up to a lot of distractions and takes time away from important things like being physically active, homework and face-to-face interaction. It can also bring on emotional and behavioral changes in youth that can become difficult to manage if not monitored.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids from ages 8-18 are now spending seven hours and 38 minutes a day, seven days a week, plugged into media.

This amount of screen time affects kids in many ways. Getting them “unplugged” and getting them to move helps them feel better, sleep better and learn better.

Here’s what you can do (without a fight) to encourage your teen to scale back on screen time and become more active.

  • Watch your own screen habits. Teens do pay attention to what you do and say. Your screen time habits send a strong role model message.

  • Remind kids to limit screen use. Banning electronics isn’t realistic. Today’s kids were born into a digital world. It’s up to us to remind them there is an “unplugged” world.

  • Motivate your teen to exercise. Many kids drop out of sports during the teen years. Let them choose the type of activity they want to participate in and then support that choice by providing transportation and coordinating your schedules. Exercise videos may be an option, or it’s as simple as walking the dog.

  • Encourage activities through school, church, library, or volunteer work that are socially engaging. The local Humane Society is a great place for young teens to volunteer and learn responsibility. Actual interaction with other people has life-long benefits.

  • Create screen rules together. You’ll be more likely to get your teen’s buy-in if you come up with screen-time rules as a family. Together write up a contract that outlines clear house rules with rewards and agreed upon consequences if not followed. Here are some suggestions for rules: no texting during meals, no TV during meals, no TV or screen time until after homework and chores are done. It will also be beneficial to agree on a time for all electronics to be turned off in the evening, including TV. The computer should stay in a public room in the home and keep the TV out of your child’s bedroom.

Talk about it. Simply setting limits won’t go over well with older teens who need to have rules that make sense to them. Show them facts about the impact of using too much media so they understand your rules aren’t unfounded and that you’ve got their best interests and good health at heart.

For more information call Horizon Public Health at 320-208-6672.

Marcia Schroeder is a registered nurse with Horizon Public Health, which serves five counties, including Douglas County. Contact her at marcias@horizonph.org.The information in this column was provided by the Minnesota Department of Health and Brandon Klein, Horizon Public Health’s environmental health specialist.