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My son spends too much time on his butt - how do I get him moving? Add to ...

The question: I worry my nine-year-old spends too much time on his butt. He spends hours in front of the computer, in school at his desk and in front of the TV at home. What can I do to get him moving? (Both my wife and I work full-time, so we have difficulty fitting in activities too.)

The answer: Our society’s increasing level of inactivity is arguably one of the greatest public health issues of our time. Adults and children alike seem to be getting more sedentary with each passing year. Many people now believe that being physically inactive may be even more of a risk factor for future health problems than being overweight.

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Children are not immune to this phenomenon and are spending large amounts of their waking hours in front of television and computer screens, hence the growing concern about their “screen time”. Depending on which study you read, Canadian children typically spend between two and six hours a day in front of a screen. This doesn’t even take into account time spent texting or using other handheld electronic devices.

Parents play a key role in helping keep their children active. So at the top of my list, I would recommend being a good role model. As you point out, this can be challenging, especially when parents work full-time. That being said, children do get the message that exercise is important when they see their parents being active.

Healthy families often strive to create fun events that involve everyone being active. Skating, swimming, bowling, biking and sledding are just a few of many possible options. Have a family meeting and get your kids’ input; you may be pleasantly surprised with their suggestions.

I strongly recommend that parents set screen time limits for their children. These limits can vary depending on the age of the child and whether it is a school night or a weekend, but ideally should be less than two hours a day. Many families find using a timer or alarm helpful in keeping kids to their allotted time limits. Keeping children’s bedrooms “screen free” is also very important. Not only does this help reduce screen time and encourage other activities, it also promotes healthy sleeping habits.

Send pediatrician Michael Dickinson your questions at pediatrician@globeandmail.com. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Ask the Pediatrician.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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