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151124ProblemsWhen I was growing up in Eugene, violent crimes were nearly unheard of, but recently it seems like murders and other horrific offenses are becoming commonplace on the front page of our local newspaper.

We’ve seen multiple young children who’ve been badly abused. A number of our teenage patients have attempted suicide these past few months. We’ve experienced a flood of kids suffering with anxiety or depression who come into our office accompanied by parents in crisis.  

Something has shifted in our community, and I’m worried. I’m sharing my thoughts with you in the hopes of starting a dialogue that will lead to solutions. Why is there so much pain and suffering in our community? And what can we all do collectively to reclaim a peaceful, healthier city?  

As a pediatrician, watching kids and families over the last 20 years, I’ve made a few observations:

•    Kids and adults spend too much time absorbed in technology. The average teen spends more than 8 hours a day in front of a screen, but less than 10 minutes talking to their parents. Many studies have shown that the brains of young children do not develop correctly when they live in cyberspace. According to research, the number of hours a day a teenager spends engaged with technology is directly proportionate to symptoms of reported anxiety and sadness. Screens are replacing our time together and parents and children are drifting apart.

•    The pace of life is too fast. It used to be that you called someone, left a message and received a call back the next day. You had breaks in your day that allowed you time to think, to reflect, to give thanks and to plan. We are now constantly deluged with emails, texts, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, tweets, and many other forms of input and interruptions. And we’ve come to believe that our responses are supposed to be immediate. I am not convinced the human brain was designed to tolerate this much information, this fast.

•    Violence and rudeness have become a normal part of society. So much available information is too graphic, intense, and negative for kids—and often for adults—to stay in a positive frame of mind. Back in my day, we were introduced to Space invaders, one of the earliest and graphically simple video games where the goal was to defeat waves of aliens with a laser cannon. Compare that to Call of Duty, today’s wildly popular series of first-person shooter games that has been criticized for glamorizing violence. Look at the content of TV shows like SpongeBob SquarePants and Modern Family, as well as movies, books and other forms of social media. Unkindness, disrespect and sarcasm have replaced good manners.  

•    Our society is increasingly self-oriented and negative. Instant gratification and material wants have replaced the thread of volunteerism and community service of my grandfather’s generation. Complaining and whining about trivial matters has, in many ways, suffocated our ability to recognize our blessings and to be thankful for them.

•    Faith, a sense of a higher purpose, and appreciation for the value of life has waned. I’m not just talking about religious faith—which certainly offers a framework for making good choices to many believers—I am talking about kids and families who appear to be without a guiding moral compass.  

We must also support programs that seek to help people and families stricken by mental illness, and drug and alcohol addiction. And we need to support programs that address social afflictions like homelessness and food insecurity.

In an upcoming blog, I will share my own opinions about ways we can work to change these worrisome trends. But for now, I invite you to share your own thoughts about what’s troubling our society these days. My hope is that we can start a conversation that can potentially lead to positive change in our community. God bless us as we seek to heal our community - somehow.

Posted by on in News

131022EPAautismgameboysIn the July issue of the Journal of Pediatrics, a study of boys with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared use of technology, or video games, with use by ADHD boys and the general pediatric male population. Participants ranged in age from 8 to 18.

The results showed that boys with autism and ADHD spend significantly more time on technology devices, including addictive video games. In particular, inattention was strongly associated with problematic video game use for both groups. The conclusion of this study is that more research needs to be done, over a longer period of time, to understand the impact this use of technology has on these kids.

Watching lots of kids with their technology in my office, I have observed children with autism often find technology soothing, and many parents of these kids use it to teach their children novel ways to communicate and adapt to the real world around them.

Kids with ADHD also are drawn to technology, although it appears to me to be for a different reason — the rapid-fire graphics and action fit their brain's frenetic pattern of activity. For parents of these kids, technology can be the rare activity that keeps them still and holds their attention for any length of time.

I will look forward to future research on ways in which technology can help, or hinder, kids with all types of abilities.

Posted by on in News

Evidence continues to mount that parents should think hard about the use of media in their homes. Recent study findings include:

  • • Increased media use (TVs and computers) in a home significantly decreases the amount of time parents talk to their child and read with their child. Talking and reading with your child are critical to their language development.
  • • Young children playing in a room with a TV on look up at the screen on average 3 times every minute. Their attention to the screen interrupts the creative hands-on play that is best for brain development.
  • • TV use before bedtime is associated with decreased quantity and quality of infant and child sleep. By age 3 years, about a third of all American children have a TV in their bedroom…..this is clearly a bad idea!
  • • Youths who watch TV with violent or rude behavior and foul language are much more likely to behave violently, rudely, and use foul language. They also are more likely to believe that such behavior is acceptable and “normal” than teens whose family forbids that type of TV viewing in their home.
  • • College-bound high schoolers beware: over 350 top universities in the US routinely search the internet for information about applicants. For 12% of last year’s college applicants, the presence of negative information on Facebook and other internet sites (including reported alcohol and drug use, plagiarism, profane language, and revealing photographs) resulted in colleges refusing admission to those students. Talk to your teens….they may not anticipate that their social media use can have a direct impact on their college career.
Tagged in: Media TV Video Games

Posted by on in News

Everyone knows that physical fitness has many beneficial effects, but can being physically fit change the shape and function of your child’s brain? A recent study suggest that the answer may be YES! 

Children ages 9 and 10 years were put through a battery of tests to determine their physical fitness level. Then their brains were imaged using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The hippocampus (the portion of the brain responsible for short term memory and spatial relations) was 12% larger relative to other portions of the brain in physically fit children compared to less fit kids.

But the apparent fitness benefits for the young brain were not just anatomic. In tests of cognition and memory, physically fit children outperformed less fit kids. The ability to recall recently learned facts and to integrate ideas were both better for children in good physical shape.

Note that the findings in this study were correlations between fitness and brain structure and function, so the study did not necessarily conclude that exercising causes brains to be larger and smarter.

So, here’s another reason to turn off the computer or TV and get your kids moving. The current recommendation is one hour a day of moving your body. Make it a priority for your kids…..you may be helping them become smarter as well as more physically fit!

Tagged in: Fitness TV Video Games

Posted by on in News

Exposure to violence from TV, movies, music and video games represents a significant risk to the health of children, according to research recently reviewed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The average American child ages 0-6 currently spends two hours a day watching screen media, while 8- to 18-year-old children typically spend more than six hours each day. The presence of a TV set in a child’s bedroom increases the average time spent watching a screen by an hour a day. Images on children’s media are increasingly disrespectful and frequently overtly violent.

The effects of such heavy media exposure to violence for our children are becoming very clear. Homicide, suicide, and trauma are now among the top killers of children in the United States. Violent media directly leads children toward increased aggression, desensitization to violence and fear of being harmed.

Take active steps to protect your child from violent media by:

  • Removing TV sets and Internet access from bedrooms. Keep these forms of media within eyeshot of the family living space.
  • Helping your child choose appropriate non-violent games, movies and TV shows. Watch them together as much as possible.
  • Limiting screen time (except computer time spent directly doing homework) to one hour or less per day, except on special occasions like family movie night or a special sports event.
  • Supporting media that show non-violent, educational topics for children.
  • Opposing the glamorization of violence, weapons and demeaning behavior in your own home.
Tagged in: Media TV Video Games