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Replacement of Healthy Behaviors

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Many youth find media (movies, music, games, communications, etc.) to be so immersive and entertaining that they desire to consume it for hours on end. If left unattended, many preteens and teens would spend hours playing video games, watching television, sending text messages, and surfing the Internet. Some parents may feel like their children even become addicted to video games or to the Internet. As children may not willingly want to stop using and consuming media, it is left to parents to set limits on such behavior when it becomes excessive.

There are a few types of important behaviors that children need to engage in that may become displaced by excessive use of media. These include replacement of physical exercise, of homework and of important family and social relationship interaction time.

Media can come to replace physical activity.

Allowing for some specific exceptions (such as listening to music while exercising), Youth are in general more sedentary while consuming media than they otherwise would be. Watching television or movies, using software, playing video games, and most interaction with the Internet take place while sitting. Worse, many children will eat snack foods while consuming media, contributing to increased intake of "junk" calories. Some watching of television and eating of chips is not so bad, but when such behavior replaces physically demanding play or sports activities, the combination can lead towards obesity and set youth up for health problems later in life.

Media can come to replace homework or housework.

Designed as it is for entertainment and socializing, media is inherently more rewarding to engage in than are household chores or school work. If parents do not set limits on media consumption, many youth will avoid their chores and, as a result, end up that much less socialized and that much more entitled in later life. Many youth will also avoid school work and possibly end up with lower grades as a result. They may also miss out on other enriching opportunities like sports, art, and music which have a painful learning curve associated with them but which also dramatically enrich one's life by opening up creative avenues for self-expression.

Media may come to replace relationships.

There are two ways this commonly happens: isolation, and over-communication. Youth who overuse media may end up isolating themselves from family and friends, both virtual and real-world, by simple expediency of not interacting with other people for extended periods of time, for example, while immersed in solving all levels of a video game. Similarly, youth playing multi-player video games may be in close touch with friends, but through the game rather than through interacting with them in person. Though part of a team in the game, each player may be alone in his room. This is real social interaction of a sort, but it is not the type that encourages the development of good social skills. Youth who already struggle to make and to keep real-life friendships may give up working on developing these important skills in favor of spending time with more comfortable but ultimately less rewarding social relationships with other socially isolated online youth.

In contrast to isolated youth are overly-communicative youth. These youth have many real-world and online friends and remain in such constant communication with these friends via telephone, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook and similar communications technologies that they neglect other important family relationships, rituals and events. In either case, youth's unregulated use of media can lead them to neglect important relationships and opportunities and lead to undesirable, sometimes emotionally painful outcomes.



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