Curb screen addiction in '09

PLAYS A FACTOR IN UNHEALTHY LIFESTYLES

Posted By SUN MEDIA

The festivities are over but the fighting festers.

The addictive media monster is alive and well in the form of shiny new cellphones, slick iPods and an arsenal of new video games.

Just what's a parent to do when kids can't keep their hands off their brand new tech toys, and spend hours battling the latest video game level.

"If your kids have overdosed on video games or the like over the holidays, warn them that the party is almost over and set guidelines for future use," says parenting expert and author Kathy Lynn. "Involve the kids in determining how much time they can play and when that will be."

On average, kids spend more than 44 hours per week with media, says Jill Murphy, of Common Sense Media. Sixtysix per cent of kids eight to 18 years old have a TV in their bedroom, while most teens spend 30 minutes a day instant messaging.

"Media and entertainment profoundly impact the social, emotional and physical development of our nation's children," says Murphy, of Common Sense Media, a not-for-profit resource organization offering information and tools to families.

According to Dr. Susan Linn, "There are too many screens in the lives of too many children -- and it's not good for them."

The Harvard professor reports that recent analysis of years of media research concludes that the amount of time children spend with screens, large and small, is a factor in childhood obesity, poor school performance, and precocious sexual behaviour, as well as alcohol and tobacco use.

It also erodes children's creative play.

Adds Linn, of commercialfreechildhood.org:"The unprecedented combination of ubiquitous screens and unregulated commercialism means that today's parents need to be more vigilant than ever before about balancing children's screen time with other activities, such as hands-on creative play."

It's so important to learn about what your kids are doing, says Lynn. "Let them teach you. If they are involved in helping you learn what they are doing, they will take some responsibility for the content.

"It's not unlike monitoring TV shows, magazines and movies. Bad content is bad content, no matter what the media," adds Lynn, of parentingtoday.ca.

And if they got a game for Christmas that turns out to be much worse than advertised, return it if possible but it's not too late to remove it from the children and explain why.

"Stick to your decision despite the howls of disbelief from the kids."

Talk to your kids, she adds. "Make sure they are aware of your values on violence, treatment of women, sexuality. Open the lines of communication so they can talk to you if they come across something unsettling."

The bottom line: "The goal is not to deny him access to the game, but to ensure that it is simply one part of his leisure activities," says Lynn. "Whether it's sports, jogging or studying, we want our kids to have a balanced life and experience various aspects to their daily life."

Are your kids addicted?

Video addiction is rare. "It's possible for a teen to spend a lot of time playing and not be addicted," says parenting expert Kathy Lynn.

"After all the games are fun, challenging, exciting and enticing. Wanting to play a lot and being addicted are two different things."

Signs of addiction include spending increasing amounts of time playing; "always thinking and talking about the game, using it to escape real-life problems, lying to conceal the amount of time he's playing or unusually irritable and anxious when he's not playing."

Weaning is the first step, says Lynn. Do not confiscate the game outright, "as this can create an extreme reaction, including running away. If you have ever given up a treasured activity, like smoking for example, you know going cold turkey is really tough. And if it's something you don't want to give up, it's tougher."

Seek professional help if nothing is working. "That being said, addiction is not typical or usual."

Healthy use

Parenting expert Kathy Lynn offers these tips for healthy use of media:

-- Develop rules of use with the kids.

-- Be clear on your bottom-line in terms of what sorts of games the kids can play then clarify with the children what is acceptable and why.

-- Determine how much time they can spend playing and when. Do this is negotiation with the kids.

-- Have all computers and game consoles in public areas of the house, not the kid's bedrooms.

-- Be flexible for special occasions like possibly a sleep-over when the kids want to play more.

Rule of thumb:

No more than an hour a day of computer time for elementary kids.

Allot computer time in 15-or 30-minute increments with breaks in-between.

The Sarnia Observer

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