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Addiction keeps kids indoors

Published February 05. 2011 09:00AM

At 13 years of age, Cameron Kohs has made a great discovery, one that he says has changed his life.

This great discovery, he says, is still a secret from many others his age but he's doing his best to change all that. He wants others to share in the same fun he's having.

What's his "new discovery?"

It's called the Great Outdoors.

There was a time when every kid knew about the thrill of being outdoors. When we were growing up, we went outdoors as soon as we pulled our clothes on in the morning. And we stayed there until we were hungry or our parents called us home for the night.

In past generations, the only time a kid stayed in the house was when he was sick, and even then it was only under great protest.

I've talked with many people about their best memories and so many mention being a kid and playing outdoors.

But for Cameron Kohs and those of his generation, the lure of the Great Outdoors has been replaced by the appeal of video games.

Cam is like every other kid - he wants the latest video game and the latest electronic craze. At least that was true until last summer when he says he had his great awakening.

Play Station, Game Boy, the Wei, X-Box - Cam and his brother have them all. And truth be told, they loved them all.

"The games are fun," Cameron says. "It's even more fun when you can play games with your friends across town or across the country - all without leaving your house."

The Kohs have a big backyard and a basketball hoop in the front yard. But Cam and his brother stopped playing in the yard years ago.

Then, the "fun spot" became the computer or one of their video games.

"They are addictive," Cameron says. "Before you know it, they have taken over your life. You don't want to do anything or think about anything except playing the games."

Cam's mother has always believed in limiting the time her children can play video games. She also limits the time they have to play anything. I know because she is my daughter and I often think she keeps her kids far too busy.

Weekly music lessons, swimming lessons, tennis lessons, team sports as well as tennis and swimming competitions are all jammed into a busy schedule that also includes many school and church activities.

But that constant busyness didn't keep Cam from playing Xbox at every chance. "My friends like to play all night, every night of the week. It's really easy to get caught up in it," he says.

He found himself playing Xbox more and more. And he saw the same thing was happening with his friends.

"Some kids played for 240 hours in ten days. One played a game for 23 hours. It takes over your life," he said.

That realization gave him the fortitude to put the games away and go outside to play. What he discovered surprised him a bit.

"I became happier," he says. "Much happier!"

He was always a bright little kid, but his grades soared when he stopped playing Xbox so much.

"I can't believe the change in him. He's so excited about life," says his mother.

"It's so much fun to run around in the dark and play flashlight tag," says Cam as he found what countless kids found before him - the simple joy of running and being outdoors.

Now, Cam is on a crusade to get his friends to put away their video games and join him outside.

"Some would rather just sit there and play Xbox all night. But I convinced some friends to only play on weekends," he says.

I'm proud of Cam for being able to see at an early age something that was eating away his time and keeping him from better pursuits. I'm also happy that he learned to appreciate being outdoors.

When I was growing up, we considered it punishment to stay inside. In fact, if we acted up, that WAS our punishment - we weren't allowed to go out to play.

Who would have thought the time would come when kids would want to stay in the house?

I have a 14-year-old neighbor who lives across the street from me but I seldom see him. He's always inside.

A few weeks ago, when he forgot his house key and no one was home to let him in, he had stay at my house for a while. I asked him why I never see him outside.

"I hate being outside," he said. He spends all his time after school "reading and playing video games," he said.

Once, when his father took him on a boat to enjoy a day on the water, the teenager didn't see any of the dolphins or other delights. He spent the entire time in the cabin playing a video game.

"I can't really say anything because I'm addicted to the games, too," said his dad.

When I was talking to a convenience store clerk right before the holidays, she said she took that part-time job so she could buy her son an Xbox 360 console with Kinect.

"It's the best gift I could give him," she smiled.

Maybe for a while. But helping a kid learn the simple joys of outdoor adventures would be an on-going gift.

Just ask Cameron.

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