One my clients looking extremely disturbed shared her story “My son, now in Std X, was such a bright student; topping his class each year. Couple of years back when he did very well at an exam we bought him a Playstation. Trusting his judgment we let him choose what games he would play on it. Initially he played just to pass his time, soon he began spending more and more time on the PS, when we questioned him he would rudely reply that this is his way of “de-stressing”. Earlier he didn’t watch much TV but now he doesn’t want to go down and spends all his free time either watching TV shows or playing video games. Now he has to appear for his crucial 10th Std. exams; he doesn’t concentrate on studying. But what is bothering me most is that he has become rude and violent. Complaints are coming from other parents that he bullies other children. His teachers complain that he is destructive in class and teases girls in the school. What do I do.”

I would have probably brushed aside this parent’s assumption that playing video games or inactivity has caused her son’s sudden aggressive streak. But recent research has come up with some startling findings.

Dr. Craig Anderson, director of Iowa State’s Center for the Study of Violence has found that “couch potato” kids- in other words children who spend excessive time in front of the TV or playing video games- are much more likely to turn violent and aggressive.

The reason?

Spend 10 minutes surfing through your TV on any given day. Observe the content on the cartoon channels kids watch. From precocious motor-mouths, to battling ninjas to sword fighting and gun battles; the shows are filled with violent content.

TV show Shin-Chan went off-air under pressure from disapproving parents and a critical government. And this was just a child with a smart mouth using foul language. Many more shows have worse content to offer.

And if this were not enough check out the market of video games available to the regular school going child. 99% of the games have violent/aggressive content.

A child who spends hours soaking up such violent TV content rounding things off with some violent game-playing has no option but to imitate such themes in real life too.

Dr. Anderson’s study of more than 130,000 subjects worldwide, proves conclusively that exposure to violent video games makes more aggressive, less caring kids — regardless of their age, sex or culture.

More reason we need to avoid making our kids couch potatoes who in turn get exposed to only violent and aggressive content.

How do you prevent kids from turning into couch potatoes?

Cut down screen time: The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that children spend no more than one to two hours a day in front of all electronic screens, including TV, DVDs, video or computer games. This may mean extra effort from the parents to entertain/occupy their kids because TV turns baby sitter most times.

Non-violence: Put a ban on any show that has even the mildest aggressive content. Avoid buying video games which have violence or too much fighting. Inculcate good values in children by exposing them to reading classics, Panchatantra or other folklore. Encourage them to see movies which teach values in an entertaining way (3 idiots, for example)

Enrol in classes: Playing a violent game for hours has been shown to decrease school performance, increase aggression, raise obesity, induce epileptic seizures, and cause postural, muscular and skeletal disorders such as tendonitis, nerve compression, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Putting a child in classes that offer some physical activity has the double advantage of limiting their exposure to electronics and also getting in some exercise at the same time. Today there is no dearth of extracurricular classes being offered-from sports, athletics, dance, music, drama.

Get the child moving: Avoid replacing TV/games with a movie at the local multiplex! Make sure family outings involve some form of movement at theme parks, gardens, museums, one-day picnics or even walking around a mall. Alternately get your child interested in some sport and play along with the child. Taking the child to a local playground and coaching your child personally in the sport is also a good idea.

Productive holidays: Summer, Diwali and Christmas vacations are when the “couch potato” plague hits the highest! Enrol the child in a camp, arrange play dates or take a vacation.

An old saying goes “An empty mind is the devil’s workshop”…keeping a child occupied and entertained could be one the best ways of preventing the long-term disasters of being a couch potato.

This post originally appeared in the RobinAge.