Monday, June 22, 2015

Video Vice

Too much screen time detrimental to children’s health

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Racing through Rainbow Road on Mario Kart or building a new world in Minecraft can serve as fun pastimes for children. But, spending too much time playing video games can lead to health concerns.

When considering limiting video game playing time, LSU Health Shreveport’s assistant professor of pediatrics Dr. Wanda Henderson Thomas said parents should limit screen time overall, not just video game playing time. Screen time includes time spent in front of televisions, computers, tablets and smartphones.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one to two hours of entertainment-based screen time for children a day. Today’s children spend about seven hours a day experiencing entertainment-based screen time. Too much screen time can lead to eye development problems with bright lights straining the eye. Excessive screen time can also cause attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders and obesity.

As children become older, they will have to be exposed to more educational-based screen time as they research information online for projects or type essays on the computer. As children become more exposed to screen time for school assignments, it is important to take breaks from the screen to limit eye strain.

Most activities involving screen time are sedentary. Thomas said spending too much time performing sedentary activities can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, especially for children. She said it is important to create an active lifestyle early in life so children can become healthy adults, limiting the risk of sedentary-related health concerns, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Parents can also consider engaging children in video games that are not sedentary as a compromise. With options such as the PlayStation Move, the Xbox Kinect and the Wii U, children do not have to be still to enjoy a video game. A popular high-energy option is the “Just Dance” series, featuring nearly 20 different games and musical selections ranging from popular Disney songs to pop hits from Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Educational games can also serve as a better alternative to regular video games, Thomas said, allowing children to play a game while learning.

Thomas also recommends parents taking an active role in their children’s screen time. They should monitor what games or shows they are watching and what apps they are using. Parents should also find games they can play with their children. This allows for bonding to take place and helps parents know what their children are experiencing.

Another concern of increased screen time is lack of socialization, leading to poor development of people skills for children. Though they may have friends they play games with online, it is still important for children to make friends at school and learn how to socialize with others to develop as a person.

Parents should also integrate nonelectronic educational activities for children, such as reading books and newspapers and playing board games. This helps limit screen time and show children that non-electronic resources exist. Outdoor play and other hobbies are also important for children, encouraging activity, sparking imagination and increasing socialization.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends creating “screen-free” zones at home, omitting televisions and computers from children’s bedrooms and turning off the television at dinner time.

Though there are negative aspects of screen time, Thomas said there are positive benefits of a healthy amount of screen time. Educational games, for example, can help children learn in a fun way.

Children also have a wealth of free information at their fingertips through online resources. Today’s children are also more aptly prepared for life with technology, as they are learning how to use computers, tablets and smart phones at a young age.

Just like with most activities, Thomas said moderation and balance is key for children to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

–Tara Bullock

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