Video Games – The Brain Drain

The other day I was sitting with my four kids at a restaurant with some friends and their children.  One of our kids was playing Pokemon on a handheld Nintendo DS.  Surrounding this child were a total of six other kids, varying from ages 2 to 9, who were staring intently at this tiny 3 x 4 inch screen.  They all had the same look and I'm guess that you know the look… slack-jawed, eyes glazed, brain off and ears closed to everything except the high-pitched music coming from the little machine.  They were completely quiet, mesmerized by the moving little creatures on the tiny screen.  The adults wondered at the absence of the normal chaos and stress that comes with taking seven children to a restaurant together.

It’s confusing to know what to do.  The relief that comes with having the children entertained is so wonderful.   The adults could actually TALK to each other… instead of scarfing down bites of food, trying to yell bits of conversation to each other while pulling little Johnny off the table and pleading with little Meagan to eat another bite of broccoli. 

But we know that this cannot be healthy.  They don’t appear to be using any higher brain function.  They are completely zoned-out while watching video and computer games, movies, television.   There is minimal physical movement.  It’s no wonder that there is an obesity epidemic in our country! 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be limited to one to two hours of screen time TOTAL.  This includes television, computers, and handhelds.  While this is achievable with very young kids, it becomes much harder to do this as your kids get older.  So much school work now requires the use of the computer, and much of today’s social life exists on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and texting. 

So, how to counter the couch potato syndrome and video game brain drain?  The evolution of game systems that make kids (and adults) move their bodies when they play is a nice compromise.  One of the most popular systems out now is the Nintendo Wii.  They have several sports and exercise games that combine exercise while having fun.  Microsoft will soon have an Xbox add-on called Kinect that will allow you to play video games just moving your body – no controller needed!  Even adventure and driving and simulation games using Kinect will require you to move your body.  Sony will also have a device that adds to the Playstation 3 to add functionality similar to the Wii Remote.   

Of course, if you played video games as a kid (or now), you know this stuff is addictive.  Much of my young life was spent in front of Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Tetris.  Try to limit it now for your kids – they have a lifetime of computers and cell phones and who knows what else in the future.  Get them to read books, use their imagination with playdough, coloring or crafts, run around outside (or inside), play board games, or whatever else you can come up with so that the rest of their brains can develop.  Teach them to entertain themselves without needing a battery or a plug!  It’s hard I know (as I sit here in front of a computer on my second cup of coffee)… but we should at least try!