Thursday, April 13, 2006

Yusaku Tazawa, vice chairman of a children and media committee at the Japan Pediatric Association, spoke with Washington Times reporter Takehiko Kambayashi about harmful effects of visual media and high-tech gadgets on children. Dr. Tazawa is also a pediatrician at Sendai Medical Center in Miyagi prefecture.

Question: When did you start seeing more children with sleep disorders because they may have watched TV or played video games for long hours?

Answer: It was probably 15 years ago that I started to hear more children complaining of headache and stomachache. They had huge bags under their eyes and looked like a panda. At first, they just did not get enough sleep. But I also began to see more children with poor posture. Some of them were stooped. I think that is because they continued to play video game or watch TV in one position too long.

Then, it was about five years ago that I met some children who had extreme sleep disorders or suffered from hallucinations. Some of them had frightening dreams and woke screaming.

Q: Since your committee started giving advice and recommendations about the harmful effects digital media can have on children, have you seen any change in children?

A: We have seen more parents become aware of the problem, and they have begun to limit children’s media and video game exposure. However, there are still so many people who are unaware of the dangers. I’ve seen the gap of public awareness of this issue widening.

These days, 3-year-old children watch TV for an average three to four hours a day. More of them probably have almost no contact with TV because of parental restrictions, while some watch it for even longer hours.

Q: When you talk to parents and children about the possible negative effects of digital media, what is their response?

A: Even before I began talking to parents about this, many had been already suspicious that children hooked up on media might have personality disorders, communication problems or difficulty distinguishing reality from the imaginary. But they didn’t know what caused such problems.

Q: How has the government responded to these issues?

A: Government officials and the media are indifferent to such problems. So are politicians. I don’t believe they have a strong sense of commitment to protect the rights of children.

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