By Sheena Williams
Killeen Daily Herald
Growing up means reaching a lot of milestones for kids – sometimes including suiting up for that first game or finally going out on that first date. But many kids are living their lives through the screens of television monitors, computers or while jamming that "X" button on a game controller. Child sized 'Been there, done that' shirts may need to be changed to 'Tuned in, watched that and got to the next level.'
Two hours is the recommended viewing and playing time for kids watching quality television or engaged in age appropriate video games, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. But many kids are getting a much larger dose of screen time than they need and the effects can be life changing explained Dr. Ron Coleman, a Metroplex Hospital pediatrician.
"Watching an excessive amount of television can increase a child's chances of becoming obese, change their eating habits and decrease their amount of appropriate playful activity. When you have a sedentary lifestyle filled with watching television, what do you tend to do? You tend to eat. Because what else is on TV – commercials advertising food. So just the impression and stimulation of the appetite can take place as well as snacking during television viewing," said Coleman. "It is definitely a big problem with children nowadays because we have seen an increase in obesity and excessive weight gain in kids and some diseases that correlate with excessive weight gain such as diabetes, asthma and joint pain." With so many homes using televisions as the centerpieces for almost every room, Coleman said that it is no wonder the sets are being over used. But he said that TV isn't the direct cause for childhood development problems.
"Kids that watch too much TV tend to be more intolerant of exertion and more out of shape. Studies have shown that our kids today are more out of shape then what they were in the past, so its bad," Coleman said. "But we can't say television is the primary cause of that. There are a lot of other things in society that contribute to that but it does play a role."
TV, a guide?
There is a small army of television and video game ratings nowadays that are designed to help parents weed through the sexually explicit, violent and inappropriate programs. But with so much time dedicated to television, exposure to the raw an uncensored can happen. So with young eyes and ears discovering a televised world, impressionable minds can easily be effected.
"You have to think about what the child is missing out on while their spending their time watching TV. They're not attending to their schoolwork, socializing with their friends or spending time with their family," said Dr. David Domelsmith, a psychologist at Darnall Army Medical Center's Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic. "Television viewing in moderation is fine but too much can take away from the normal activities a child should be engaging in. The younger a child is, the harder time they have trying to separate reality from fiction."
Video games have come a long way from their predecessors Pac-Man and Pong said Coleman with a chuckle. He shared that the task oriented minds of children, become addicted to reaching objectives in video games but become desensitized by the violent or inappropriate behaviors it takes to attain that new level.
Domelsmith said that many parents who try to limit their child's screen time are often met with temper tantrums.
"Some video games are so engaging that they seem more fun than real life," Domelsmith said. "What we see in children who have overexposure to television and video games is that they commonly mimic the adult behavior that they see on the screen. So parent's should be careful about what they allow into their homes."
The Parent Factor
Creating a balance is the best way to handle an overused television set said Reggie Flores, a clinical social worker for Darnall Army Medical Center's Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic. He said that parents need to get in control and remove the TV if needed.
"Parents need to be models for their children because oftentimes, a lot of our younger parents are just as much into video games or watching television as their kids are. They need to model correct behavior," Flores said.
Coleman is a father himself and shared that he often watches television with his two children. And if they do watch it on their own, he checks the programs they're viewing.
"I make sure that it's appropriate and of course there are parental controls that you can program into the televisions. And we limit it. We make sure that they are in enough activities – my son is in the band and plays basketball and my daughter has dance and piano classes. So they're in enough extracurricular activities so that they're not rushing to the TV set when they get home."
Contact Sheena Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553.