America has long been heralded as a country of doers, stretching its very boundaries on the motto "Go West, young man!" We embody vigor and an attitude of tackling life with the gusto of grabbing a bull by the horns.
This long-standing love affair for getting into the arena is evidenced in many of our pursuits; entrepreneurship, civic volunteering, self-help books, home improvement centers, and even the quest for the "better mousetrap."
There are, though, recent signs of pacifying as too many become couch potatoes enslaved to the TV remote, computer mouse and video game controller.
Television was the first mass tranquilizer, with the average American 2 years or older now spending 34 hours weekly glued to the boob tube. Those five hours daily not only contribute to our national one-in-three obesity rate, I believe they sap creativity and inner directedness. Furthermore, research indicates that kids watching more than 10 hours of TV weekly don't do as well in school as those watching 10 hours or less.
Added to the TV mania are now omnipresent electronic devices: iPods, blackberries, computers and video game consoles. The American Medical Association says that 90 percent of our youth play video games and that up to 15 percent of them may be addicted, with some playing 10 to 20 hours straight.
Granted, not all video games are bad. Quality games can, in fact, improve problem-solving skills and moderation is crucial. Unrestrained virtual reality, though, can imbalance mid and forebrain functioning, blurring decision making and upsetting emotional equilibrium. Real world physical social, intellectual and educational building blocks do matter.
Exhibit A illustrates our disconnect: A guy calling himself Pew Die Pie is an Internet sensation with over three billion hits and 18.5 million subscribers, many in the 10- to 15-year-old crowd. His routine on some 1,000 videos includes lame gay jokes, ugly faces, girlish screaming and, are you ready for this, showing himself playing video games. Yes, legions watch him playing games!
This is not a call to unwire our world and go back to the improvised recreation of my youth where we played jacks, mumbly peg, hop scotch and stick ball, using a sawed off broom, though we don't seem all the worse for wear for that simplicity. Parents, though, need to limit kids' TV and video game time and edit for violence.
Admittedly, challenging. As a grandparent, I've oft caved, using electronic baby sitters. Kids thrive with hobbies, clubs, music and sports. Get them outdoors. Try reading to, or with them. Make library visits a routine. Consider family board games and outings.
Ultimately, I stand upbeat on America precisely because this has always been a bastion of can-do optimists. We can pass this flirtation with passivity and the sidelines. By nature, Americans are not, first and foremost, spectators. We are players!
Walter Ruehlig is a resident of Antioch.