A recent study showed that the growing sedentary trend among America’s youth can be reversed. The study, published in the July issue of Pediatrics , found that greater amounts of physical activity in young people correlates with decreased amounts of screen time. Researchers surveyed 5,685 households and 7,415 youngsters ages nine to fifteen. One striking feature of their findings strongly suggests that simply establishing limits with children leads to less screen time overall.
I have found in my work with youngsters who overly indulge in the cyber world that linking computer and video game use to positive target behaviors can also be quite effective. One week with no missing assignments in school could be rewarded with three or four hours of video game time on the weekend. An hour-long bike ride could be linked with an hour on the computer. If the cyber world provides potent motivational potential for your child , USE IT!
Aerobic video games, like Dance, Dance Revolution (DDR), comprise another powerful tool. Dr. Ernie Medina has opened the XRtainment Zone using DDR and other fitness-oriented video games to attract those who generally would not even think about exercising. I recommend that families augment their video game arsenal with these types of aerobic games, and, even better, play them as a family. The Wii gaming system is one I highly recommend because it has multiple aerobic options. The Wii Fit, for example, provides a compelling combination of exercise and fun. Many of my cyber-addicted clients struggle with weight issues. Systems like the Wii Fit help beat them “at their own game.”
Tim, a 400 pound video game and Facebook junkie, and member of one of my cyber recovery groups, put on his weight largely from a nine-hour-a-day screen time habit. His program of recovery started with a 20-minute walk every day. “I thought I was going to be fat for the rest of my life,” Tim told me. “Once I started to limit my screen time and just do simple things like walking or going out with friends, the weight just started to come off.”
Tim’s parents divorced when he was fourteen, a fact which sent his mother into the workforce. “There was no parental supervision,” Tim confessed. “I could just do whatever I wanted, and that’s exactly what I did.” Parents are working more hours, sometimes for less pay, and so it is becoming increasingly common for children to raise themselves. It is imperative, however, that parents find a way to set limits so they can save their children from wallowing their lives away in front of a computer screen or video game console.