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Kids should spend more time playing


Brent Castillo

The Wichita Eagle

May 15, 2008


Child's play may be going the way of cheap gasoline.

Children 6 and under spend about two hours a day with screen media, about three times as much as they spend reading or being read to, according to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Heavy television watchers spend less time playing than other children. Other research gathered by the organization says that children ages 9 to 12 spend only one minute a day in creative play.

"Play thrives in environments that provide children with safe boundaries but do not impinge on ability to think or act spontaneously. It is nurtured with opportunities for silence," said Susan Linn, co-founder of the organization. "For children who are flooded continually with stimuli and commands to react, the cost is high. They have fewer opportunities to initiate action or to influence the world they inhabit, and less chance to exercise the essential human trait of creativity."

Linn has written a new book that stresses the importance of children playing creatively. It's called "The Case for Make Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World."

Her book is another reminder for parents not to use our TVs or video games as baby sitters. The negative effects come from being sedentary and from the overwhelming amount of marketing directed at children.

According to Linn, marketing directly to children contributes to the childhood obesity epidemic, encourages eating disorders and precocious sexuality, and elevates youth violence and family stress.

Companies are spending at least $15 billion annually marketing to children, Linn said, dramatically up from the $100 million spent in 1983. From a business standpoint, it makes sense. According to, children influence purchases totaling more than $600 billion a year. And the companies have easy access to our young.

In a typical day, 68 percent of all children under 2 use screen media for at least two hours a day, and one-quarter of them have a TV in their room. This trend runs contrary to the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics that "urges parents to avoid television for children under 2 years old."

But what about educational shows, you ask? Beware of the marketing. More than a quarter of infants have a so-called educational "Baby Einstein" video. But, according to Linn's group, there is no evidence that these -- or any other video for babies -- have any educational value. In fact, the group filed a complaint against the videomakers with the Federal Trade Commission and forced the company to modify its marketing and tone down its claims of benefits.

Parents seem to be getting somewhat wise to the game. In 2007, a Wall Street Journal poll indicated that 64 percent believe that popular characters from television and movies should not be used to sell products to children, and about half believe that marketing should be prohibited to children under 12.

But it's not enough to want businesses to shape up and act responsibly. Parents first have to take the initiative, and that starts at home.

Turn off the TV, hide the PlayStation, and send your kids outside to play. If we're serious, we'll go out and join them and make creative play more than 60 seconds of our child's day.

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