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Saved by the Dr. Bell

Screen Entertainment and Our Children

2267178231 8174221ca7Your Child's Internet Saturation - It's Time to Engage!

TV, cable, movies, laptops, desktops, iPhones, iPads, iPods, XBox, WII, YouTube, texting!

World of Warcraft, Minecraft, Call of Duty - Black Ops, Halo, Grand Theft Auto, Assassin's Creed...

etc., etc., etc.

I love video games. When I was a kid in Vermont, we would go to the "More Fun" arcade and drop quarter after quarter to play Galaga, Donkey Kong, and Dragon's Lair. For Christmas in the early 80's we got an Atari 2600. I remember the morning dad came downstairs to find me playing Space Invaders and said "Good morning," when actually for me it should have been "Good night." But that was rare, you can only stare at aliens on a screen moving back and forth for so long before you go crazy. The only other screen entertainment was TV and that included a few hours of Saturday morning cartoons, and then after 8 pm weekdays for Knight Rider and the A-Team.

For my own children, that time seems as foreign to them as my father's youth when they first got a black and white tv when he was a grade schooler.

My boys are currently into Minecraft. If you have a boy, chances are he plays this too. Its a great fantasy world where you can create anything - buildings, mountains, volcanoes, ships, castles, you name it. The only problem I have is stopping them.

In the last decade our children have moved from simple tv watching to being saturated with instant media entertainment through video screens and devices, further detaching our children from the "here and now."

Many children are allowed free reign of the internet and are being exposed to mature and violent images well beyond their comprehension and their maturity level.

Sitting in front of a screen, children are giving up opportunities for more active intellectual, emotional, artistic and physical growth:

Instead of hours surfing the internet, they should be reading a book, exercising, practicing talents like music or drawing, doing homework, or engaging in conversation with family and friends. They are missing meaningful interaction with people they respect and value.

They are being influenced by the thousands of commercials they see each year for alcohol, junk food, fast foods and toys and may be developing further unhealthy habits, and gaining weight.

The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 8 to 18 year olds spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day using entertainment media, as much time as they are in school.

And as parents, we can no longer be passive in the management of our children's screen time. Here are some tips for parents to manage your kid's media exposure:

  • Establish good habits early. Kids need guidelines and rules about what is a good amount of time to spend on the computer. A good rule of thumb for elementary kids is no more than an hour a day during the week. Allotting computer time in 15- or 30-minute increments gives you a chance to check in and suggest that it’s time for a break.

  • Be a role model. When kids are around, set an example by using media the way you want them to use it. Don't bring your phone to the dinner table, and turn the television off when it's not actively being watched. Record shows that may be inappropriate for your kids to watch -- even the news -- and watch them later, when kids aren't around.

  • Stress homework before computer work. Make sure your kids know that homework must be finished before they look at YouTube videos or instant message the latest gossip.

  • Limit multitasking. Media multitasking is when kids are chatting online, watching TV, playing a game, checking out Facebook, or listening to music – and trying to do homework at the same time. It’s not really known what affect this has on how kids learn, but experts do know that it takes longer to do tasks like homework when other activities are going on at the same time. And that increases daily screen time.

  • Keep an eye on the clock. Keep an eye on how long kids spend online, in front of the television, watching movies, playing video games. The secret to healthy media use is to establish time limits and stick to them -- before your kids turn on and tune in.

  • Determine if your child has an addiction or if he or she is simply spending too much time online. What happens when your children are away from the computer? Are they argumentative, depressed? Is there a marked change when they are online?

  • If you suspect a dependency, have a heart-to-heart. Have a real discussion with your kids about your concerns. This, plus some serious guidelines, may normalize the behavior. If the problem continues, or you think the computer time is masking depression or anxiety, see your child’s doctor for advice. Also, check in with the school counselor and see if there is something going on at school.

  • Have screen free days. A lot of parents have "no video games during the school week." Sometimes the child spends his whole school day thinking about the half hour he is going to play that afternoon, and daydreams away his day. Having "no screen time" days frees the child to have other expectations during the day, forcing them to look for other forms of entertainment like reading books, playing games, drawing, hiking, or practicing sports.