January 31, 2005

ARTICLES: The best of cyber-friends Computers, video games, TV take place of real playmates

The best of cyber-friends Computers, video games, TV take place of real playmates

By Carrie Saldo - Berkshire Eagle Staff

Parents may no longer have to answer the age-old question, "Can Bobby come over and play?" On-screen media -- television, video games and computers -- could be their children's new best friend.

Morris Elementary School adjustment counselor Donna Weber says she has noticed a change in students entering elementary school over the past five years.

"They play by themselves a lot more than students used to," said Weber, who has worked at Morris for 12 years.

The children play alone -- primarily with video and computer games and watching television -- so much that it makes it difficult when it comes time for them to function in a group, she said.

Two hours a day on-screen

According to the organization Common Sense Media, children 6 and younger spend as much time daily consuming on-screen media as they do playing outside -- about two hours a day.

Also, children in general spend more time watching television than any other activity except sleep, according to the Parents Television Council.

Many Web sites are devoted to the effects of on-screen media on children and offer advice for parents about how to talk to their children about their use of computers, video games and television.

The Public Broadcasting Service encourages parents to make television watching an active event by asking children about what they saw and heard.

PBS suggests parents record programs for children to watch at a later date so that parents can pause the program to ask children "why" or "how" questions. If the program is not prerecorded, ask those questions during commercials, PBS suggests.

Sample questions on the PBS Web site were, "I wonder why the writer had the actor say that?" And "Did you notice that the scary music started to play just then?"

PBS also advised parents to remind children that the images on television are created by people, and to suggest a child take some photographs, draw or paint something from their imagination.

Williamstown Elementary School Principal Stephen Johnson said television and interacting with other media may be a way to bring children together.

"They may do it by themselves, but it does generate group activity," said Johnson. "It can give the children common interests."

Johnson said he has discussed the pluses and minuses of playing video or computer games and television viewing with six teachers at the school. They reported to him that children will often discuss the common interests or experiences, including those that are on-screen.

However, Johnson also said parents need to help students find a balance of indoor and outdoor activities. If they do not, he said, studies have shown too much sedentary time can cause problems with maintaining a healthy weight.

"When they are inside playing [these games], they are not physically active," he said. "They need to have a balance."

Ann Marie Carpenter, school adjustment counselor unit leader for the Pittsfield Public Schools, said she has noticed changes in children's social skills development largely because of a change in their environment.

"In the past, kids had more opportunity to just be out there playing," she said. "But kids are now more involved with structured, adult-supervised play."

Carrie Saldo can be reached at csaldo@berkshireeagle.com or at (413) 528-3660.

SOURCE: http://www.berkshireeagle.com/Stories/0,1413,101~7514~2681826,00.html

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