Television and the Internet have replaced outdoor gamesIt's summertime, we live in great communities that invest in neighborhood parks, and the living ought to be easy. Only one thing is missing from this pretty picture. Children.

During a time of year when there should be packs of kids outdoors playing hide-and-seek or waiting for a turn on the swings, too often it's possible to drive around and find few or no children playing outside.

Sure, there are exceptions. But it's astounding how few children are out enjoying these long mid-summer evenings. Compared with 20, 30 or 40 years ago, there has been a stunning change in how children spend these precious weeks away from the classroom.

Instead of swinging on ropes, floating on inner tubes, tagging the cute girl next door and running for "safe," choosing up sides for water-balloon wars - instead, indeed, of a whole host of activities that burned off calories while teaching the basics of human relations - children today are far more likely to be found in front of the television or computer screen.

Granted, in olden times we did not have several 24-hour cartoon channels or the Internet. Nor were our parents worried about kidnappers or molesters. But the delights of TV are not so wonderful, nor are dangers so real as to justify the sad changes we see in childhood. Children need to play together. Watching made-up characters cavort on TV is no substitute.

A study from Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle recently found that young children who watch television are more likely to develop attention problems later in childhood. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV viewing for children under the age of 2, along with limits on TV time for older children of less than two hours a day.

Researchers have found a high relationship between childhood TV time and obesity, aggression, retarded reading skills and even a propensity for taking up smoking. Children sitting immobile in front of the TV burn fewer calories than in any activity aside from sleeping, and they are at the same time bombarded with advertisements for high-calorie, highly processed foods.

It would be easy to get caught up in a "Big Trouble in River City" litany of bad things associated with TV. But instead of developing a guilty conscience over giving in when your kid begs for another half hour with Sponge Bob, a much more useful response is exercising a little leadership. Get up, get out and play with your kids. Live your life and show them how to live theirs.

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