Video Games: Part 2
Is a Generation at Risk?
Real Life and Real Friends
Another question experts and parents ask is not just how long children play video games, but what activities are displaced when they do.
"If you play a video game, you don't do something else. What is the trade-off?" asks Eugene Provenzo Jr., a professor of education at the University of Miami and an expert on the impact of video games on children. "It may be good - maybe you aren't getting into fights," he says. "Or, maybe you aren't playing baseball, or getting physical activity. What's the benefit and what's the loss?"
"I think there are a lot of losses with too much screen time," Provenzo continues. "We end up in a highly isolated, simulated culture."
Experts and parents alike worry that children will learn to prefer the simulation over the real world. Tish Momirov worried that her son Alex liked video games so much that he no longer engaged in other creative activities. "He loved to draw and he didn't draw anymore," she says.
As video games have become what Momirov calls the "social currency" among preteen boys, parents report that their children are easily bored with everything else. Momirov says she noticed a "scary kind of passivity" in her son's friends who had unlimited access to video games. "They didn't want to do anything," she says. "Nothing else really appealed to them."
To Walsh, stories like this one are credible. "Subtle things are happening in kids' brains," he says. "They are creating a set of expectations: "Entertain me! If it's not entertaining, I'm not interested." There are kids who lose interest if it is not that constant, multisensory and emotional stimulation."
Experts and parents also worry that children who excessively play video games may substitute virtual friends for real ones.
"It definitely prevented me from developing real relationships," 20-year-old Oscar Demello admits, recalling teen years immersed in a game called QuakeWorld. At the time, Demello says he felt a sense of community and camaraderie with other players. But, he adds in hindsight, "ultimately, those relationships don't carry to life outside the game."
Whether it's one child or a group playing video games, the only thing getting physical exercise is the joystick.
While headaches, sleep disturbances, dry eyes and repetitive stress injuries are all possible with excessive video game playing, Walsh's greatest physical concern is obesity, widely identified as a major public health issue. "One of the major causes is the increasingly sedentary lifestyle resulting from increased screen time," he says. "If we're serious about reversing the trend, we have to pry kids away from screens."
One mom, who asked not to be identified for this story, says she worries about her 14-year-old nephew's physical health. "He was basically raised on video games," she says, adding that he spends at least three hours each day playing. "He is physically not developed. He's overweight. He sits cross-legged on the floor with his back completely slouched looking up at the TV. His neck leans back on his shoulders and his mouth is open, kind of slack-jawed - for hours."
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- Video Game Addiction: One Familiy's Story
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Anne Chappell Belden is a freelance writer, journalism instructor and mother of two children. She has a master�s degree in media studies.