By Andrew Sims - email
(RNN) - Just like the song says, Christmas is the time to find tiny tots with their eyes all aglow. But it's what's keeping their eyes glowing for hours on end that concerns doctors and parents.
New Hampshire pediatrician Dr. Charles Cappetta says the digital toys should not completely replace a healthy lifestyle - and it's up to parents to make sure that doesn't happen.
"This is a multi-factorial problem that we have here," said Cappetta, the creator and founder of the Granite State FitKids Program. "It has taken a generation to make this problem and it will take a generation to find a solution."
But video games are not all bad, right?
David Williamson Shaffer, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the departments of Educational Psychology and Curriculum and Instruction, makes video games that help people learn while they play, called epistemic games.
Shaffer, a game scientist and author,says while he agrees with the overall healthy lifestyle push and moderation of all things digital, he says there are a lot of things for children to take away from games.
Shaffer says the best games are the ones that allow users to remove game elements and interact with them in their out-of-game life.
There are questions to ask.
"Just like there are well-balanced nutritional diets, there can be well balanced electronic diets," Shaffer said.
Shaffer notes that just like movies, video games have rating systems. Although he warns that just like movie ratings, video game rating systems are not perfect, and parents should play the games with your kids.
"Games are not inherently good or bad," he said. "They are what they are, and you should model your decisions just like anything else you choose for your child."
Cappetta, who insists on being called "Dr. Chuck," has been working with students and parents since the program's founding in 1997. Since then he has worked with 36 schools in 17 communities to spread the message that technology and a healthy, active lifestyle can go hand-in-hand.
Cappetta said the problem starts with the relationship between the parent and child. It's a process that has to start early and be solid.
"You have to start laying the foundation now," Cappetta said. "You need to start when you're pregnant, continue on into early childhood and keep it going strong."
Cappetta said he often hears too many, what he calls "cop out" excuses by parents saying that time and work often keep them from playing an active role in their child's digital life.
Parents place too much emphasis on pleasing their children, he says instead of maintaining their position as the parent. Parents have to step in and stop it, and again, he said, the earlier the better.
"Just turn it off!" Cappetta tells parents. "You're the parent, aren't you?"
Cappetta said he tells patients in his office all the time to "unplug themselves."
"I feel like a dinosaur telling them to put down the devices, but they are like salmon swimming upstream. You have to break the cycle."
Newzoo, an international market research and consulting firm focused specifically on the gaming industry, recently published its consumer spending numbers for 2010.
This year, U.S. consumers spent $24.7 billion on video games, $10.6 billion on console (Xbox, Playstation3 and Wii) games alone, according to Newzoo.
Even though both of those numbers are reductions from last year's tally - a 2 percent decrease and a 29 percent decrease, respectively - experts still agree that the market is climbing as prices drop, a trend that will continue, experts say.
What the experts say is more interesting (or alarming, depending on who's looking) is the rapidly increasing amount of time kids spend on their electronics.
At the beginning of 2010, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation released a study called the "M2: Media in the Lives of 8 to 18-year-olds," which surveyed 2,002 third- to 12th-grade students.
The study found that between 1999 and 2009, kids increased the amount of time spent on their devices by 1 hour, 19 minutes, to a whopping 7 hours, 38 minutes per day.
Only 30 percent of the kids surveyed said their parents have rules about what games, and for how long, they can play.
Cappetta said the process of unplugging your child and starting to get control back is not as hard as most people think. It's a process, he says, that should be done together.
"It starts with you [the parent] getting on their level and experiencing what they are playing and involved in firsthand," Cappetta said. He said the initial barrier existing between parents and their kids is that parents feel outdated and unable to understand the games their kids are playing.
"Dr. Chuck" says the solution is easy. Parents need to play or watch their kids playing their games. Cappetta says you would help your kid with their homework, why not help them with their video games?
Getting your child to take a break and pause their game should also not be presented as a punishment, Cappetta said. He suggests taking the time to at first show your young children that it's an activity you can both enjoy. Activities like taking a walk, reading a book or coloring a picture will all relax the visually stimulated mind.
Cappetta suggests what he called the "5210" approach. It stands for five fruits and vegetables, two hours of video games, one hour of physical activity and zero sweets. And he suggests this approach for parents, too.
"Being healthy is a good move for everyone," Cappetta said.
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