Grand Theft Auto, Gears of War, Call of Duty, Fallout, World of Warcraft – these titles get the blood pumping and heart racing in just about every American teenager. Meanwhile, parents stand by, fascinated by the number of hours their kids can spend in front of the television or video game console. What isn’t quite as entertaining is their child’s growing waistline.
Is it true that playing video games makes you fat? Research has shown that children who play video games are more likely to be overweight than children who don’t play video games. And experts at the National Institutes of Health, Yale University, and the California Pacific Medical Center have found strong evidence that children who get more media exposure are more likely to become obese, start smoking, use drugs and alcohol, perform poorly in school, and begin earlier sexual activity than those who spend less time in front of a screen. But does that mean video games are to blame for the childhood obesity epidemic? Probably not.
The True Adversary: A Sedentary Lifestyle
Most researchers have concluded that video games themselves are not the enemy – sitting still is. They reason that the more time a child spends playing video games, the less time he is likely spending in more active pursuits. However, because overweight children tend to be more sedentary and have fewer friends, some experts believe playing video games could be a result of obesity, not the cause of it.
“A sedentary lifestyle is a pervasive problem among young people,” says Jackie Friedman, Psy.D., the clinical director at Wellspring Camp in California, a leading weight loss camp for teens ages 11 to 18. “Most of our campers are dependent on one or all three forms of entertainment: video games, computer games, or Internet.”
Friedman continues, “Young people who are overweight tend to be socially isolated and lack confidence in their skills at sports and playing with other kids. They need practice to adjust to a life of activity at home. What we do at camp sets them up for long-term success.”
Contrary to the slacker stereotype with which they are often branded, many of today’s teenagers are remarkably busy people. Schoolwork, extracurricular activities, volunteer service, and part-time jobs keep many teens on their toes from early in the morning until late at night. And though a solid work ethic is often seen as a key to academic and financial success, teenagers are not immune to the damaging effects associated with overextending oneself.
Writing in the May 2007 edition of Perspectives on Labour and Income, Katherine Marshall of Canada’s Labour and Household Surveys Analysis Division noted that “most teens have relatively high workloads, and not surprisingly, this comes with some feelings of stress. For example, 16 percent considered themselves workaholics, 39 percent felt under constant pressure to accomplish more than they could handle, and most (64 percent) cut back on sleep to get things done.”
Parents who are concerned that their teens are overdoing it can help ease the strain by teaching them to incorporate the following time-management skills into their lives:
Tip #1: Outline Objectives
As the Mayo Clinic advises on its website, “planning your day can help you feel more in control of your life.” Teens who write down both short-term goals and long-term objectives may find themselves better able to achieve both.
Keeping a “to-do” list can help in a variety of ways: It allows the teen to organize his day, it prevents him from making multiple commitments for the same time period, and it allows him to note areas where he may either be overburdening himself or wasting his time.
Reviewing previous days’ to-do lists can also boost your teen’s confidence by giving him specific feedback on how much he has accomplished.
Tip #2: Indicate Importance
Instead of merely listing the day’s activities in chronological order, work with your teen to help her organize her daily goals in order of importance. The very process of prioritizing her activities will prompt your teen to evaluate the significance of what she is doing with her time.
Tip #3: Prevent Procrastination
At first glance, procrastination might look like the ultimate tool for uncluttering one’s schedule – after all, your teen could argue, he won’t be very busy today if he decides to put everything off until tomorrow, right?
If responsibilities came with penalty-free expiration dates, procrastinating might be the best approach. But back here in the real world, avoiding what needs to be accomplished only delays the inevitable. And waiting until tomorrow, next week, or next month will have a domino effect on your teen’s schedule, ultimately forcing him to do work in a shorter time frame while under the stress of a looming (or missed) deadline.