Computers, the internet and games consoles have revolutionized communication and access to information for our generation and our children’s generation. Now instead of writing a letter and waiting a week for a reply we can simply write an email, press “send” and our intended recipient receives the message immediately.
Information about every conceivable subject can be obtained at the push of a button, making children’s homework easier and enabling us to see people via video link even if they’re the other side of the world. Technological advances have opened up our world, but they have also diminished the experience of childhood for many children. Many parents are asking, “Is my child addicted to the computer?”
While we and our parents were playing soccer, building tree house dens or cycling around the neighborhood with friends, our children sit motionless in front of computer screens or with a games console in their hands, often for extended periods of time. While they are experts at playing soccer electronically, lots of kids don’t know how to play the real thing or don’t have the motivation to get off the sofa and kick a ball on the lawn.
Attempts by frustrated parents to engage their children in alternative activities may be met with resistance. Balancing screen time with other pursuits is a central and reoccurring argument among parents and their children, particularly those in the tween and teenage years, but it is a problem that can’t be ignored as it is affecting the health and wellbeing of the new generation.
U.S. Children Unhealthier Than Their Predecessors
Despite horror stories of polio, post-war food shortages and loose control of pollution, children in the 1950s were actually far healthier than the latest generation of children. Children are now being diagnosed with hormonal disorders, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, joint pains and high cholesterol in record numbers. In fact, one in five children has bad cholesterol levels and the American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested that a third of the nation’s children need cholesterol screening.
Traditionally seen as diseases of adulthood, more and more debilitating conditions are now affecting age groups where they were rarely or never seen before. The number of children receiving medications for a pick and mix assortment of ailments is off the chart. Children viewed as “healthy” are now lining up for daily doses of asthma drugs, laxatives, antihistamines for skin conditions, blood pressure medication, anti-anxiety drugs, ADHD meds or anti-depressants.
One doctor, while attending to the medical needs of a large group of children at a summer camp, found that out of 850 children, over a third were taking pharmaceutical drugs. The reasons may be multi-faceted and include aggressive targeting of children by drug companies, a dependency on pharmaceutical solutions by parents or the fact that today’s children just don’t seem to exercise like we did.
Life expectancy for our youth has also fallen, and for the first time in many decades, we are set to live longer than our children will. Due to obesity related diseases, the average life span of children has reduced by five years.
Chronically Sick Children
Teenagers now spend an average of eight hours a day consuming electronic media (computers, television, handheld consoles, cell phones), the same amount of time as a 9 to 5 job. Most children have TV sets in their bedroom and about half watch the TV while doing homework and read less books because they don’t enjoy them as much as movies, internet or electronic games. Many don’t exercise at all, which is a factor in the rise of obesity.
While this can cause crippling ill health problems, lack of exercise can affect hormone production and mood, making kids feel sad or depressed and fueling the number of parents asking for prescription behavioral medications for their children. Excessive screen time can also cause mental difficulties, problems with concentration and memory lapses.
Children’s overall cognitive ability is decreasing with one in six children now classed as developmentally disabled, and mental dysfunctions normally associated with aging are occurring in young people as early as their twenties – for instance, with the emergence of diseases like early onset dementia.
Stopping Computer Dependency
There are lots of things you as a parent can do to reverse this worrying trend:
Put limits on your child’s time using electronic media – for instance, by only allowing its use on the weekend. If you think your child will be resistant, install a parental program on your computer. Some parental programs have a timer that will switch off the computer when your child’s allotted time is up. Put games consoles in a locked safe when you don’t want your child to use them.
Don’t allow your child to have a TV in the bedroom – and make sure your child does his homework without a TV set or YouTube on. You could suggest he does it at the dining table to ensure there are no distractions and set specific times in the week that are set aside for study.
Have a TV-free Night – Have a couple of nights every week where you don’t watch TV or use computers or games consoles. Use the time to talk, read books or play a board game. It may help communication with your child and bring you closer together as a family.
Get Your Child to Play Outside – Encourage outdoor pursuits. Buy your child a bike or have him walk to school if it is possible. Enroll him in a fitness class for kids. There are lots of fitness fun activities in Long Island, some for toddlers with their moms and some for older children. Your child’s school may provide a fitness class as part of an after-school club so do ask if your child is attending one.
Encourage a love of sport – Some swimming sessions for children are free so you could enquire at your local sports center. Other activities great for body and mind include horse riding, yoga or gym club.
By Claire Pritchard, Guest Contributor