Something is changing our children.

When I was a kid, there were few things I enjoyed more than playing outside, joining sports' teams, wrestling with friends or exploring parks with my dog Sadie. But every year, I see fewer children having fun outdoors and the vision of my childhood has grown into a distant memory of the "the good old days."

I'm 25 years old.

A lot has changed since my elementary school days. Many kids have gone from blowing dandelions in the wind to blowing up virtual buildings, from being curious about sex to watching it on the Internet, from roughhousing to channel surfing.

Many teachers complain children have become either too hyper or too dormant in the classroom. And to my shock, many kids no longer want to take part in gym class or sports to the point where teams have been cancelled due to a lack in numbers.

Each year, more and more kids are diagnosed with developmental problems and mental disorders, being put on psychotropic medications as a result -- and obesity rates continue to rise to near epidemic proportions.

Our swing sets and slides are almost motionless and the monkey bars look as if they should be put in a museum. I have watched empty parks and wondered what has changed.

There is no denying the fact our world has moved into a new era of high-speed technology. I can have live webcam chats with friends in Europe, plug into libraries with the simple touch of a button and watch newscasts from almost any country in the world.

For many kids and adults, this wealth of technology and information has replaced the green grass of backyards and parks with the flashing of colour screens, walks on the beach with pulse-quickening games, sports with virtual reality.

New statistics

A report, released Tuesday by Active Healthy Kids Canada, says that 90 per cent of Canadian kids are not getting enough exercise. The culprit? They are spending too much time in front of television, movie and computer screens.

The report has given Canadian children an F grade for the amount of time kids spend in front of a screen. Children between the ages of 10 and 16 spend about six hours a day -- this is three times longer than the recommended time of two hours or less.

The report says that television and video game use is rising as participation in organized sports is declining. In 1992, 77 per cent of youths aged 15 to 18 played sports. However, that participation rate dropped to 59 per cent by 2005.

This news came as no shock to pediatric occupational therapist Cris Rowan, based in Sechelt, B.C. She says research shows that TV and video game addictions are now the most critical factor affecting normal child development -- a trend she has witnessed for over 20 years.

Critical needs not being met

According to Rowan, three critical factors are not being met in today's technologically advanced world -- the need for children to touch, move and connect with other people in order to be physically and mentally healthy.

"What we're seeing with young children now is they are not getting enough movement because they are sitting in front of a TV or video games," she said.

"They are also not getting enough touch. They are not riding bikes and playing enough sports. They are not getting enough connection with each other and their parents."

This has really impacted their ability perform in schools, leading to a "diagnostic mania" where kids are being sent to specialists and often placed on psychotropic drugs, Rowan says.

As a result, Rowan has witnessed 20 new disorders skyrocket, which are usually diagnosed for kids aged four to eight, but sometimes to kids as young as two. These include: excessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, sensory processing disorder -- and the list goes on.

"The prescription and diagnosis with little toddlers has tripled," she said. "This is scary."

Looking back

Jason Welsh, now 26, was put on Ritalin in Grade 5 after a recommendation by his teacher. Looking back, he says he was just a hyper kid with a lot energy, but a psychiatrist decided to tone him down with drugs.

"I think (Ritalin) is the answer for teachers' problems for many generations of kids," he says.

In Grade 5, Welsh took one pill in the morning, one at lunch and by 2 p.m. he often fell asleep in class. His mother took him off the medication once she found out he was having trouble staying awake.

"Once a parent realizes what (Ritalin) does to a child, they realize they are doping their kids during the day to make teachers' jobs easier," he explained. "What's that all about?"

"I think the pill is the wrong thing to do," he said. "By giving (kids) pills, you're not teaching them how to deal with their problems, you're just masking them."

Harness a child's energy

And that's just the point for Rowan, who has developed the Zone-in Program, which teaches children how to harness their energy in the zone to learn. Her programs are already in use in Kamloops, B.C. and communities throughout the U.S. and Canada.

"The zone is a place where you can listen, learn, focus, concentrate and basically be productive," she said.

Fifty years ago, children were much more active before school. Since children are not doing enough physical work, Rowan says they have trouble sitting still in class.

"We do a lot of techniques in the classroom where students use their bodies while in their desks," she explained. "Basically, I'm making them haul hay or carry buckets of water, the same way children did 100 years ago. This puts them in a position to learn."

Janice Neden, President of the Learning Assistance Teacher's Association of B.C., has found the program so successful, she has brought it with her to four schools, including her current location, McGowan Park Elementary School in Kamloops.

She says the program provides strategies for children so they can identify what energy level is needed in the classroom, which helps them focus and concentrate in school.

"You don't just learn with your brain, you learn with your body," she said. "The program helps you use your body in a way to help you learn."

One of the benefits of the Zone-in Program is it involves the whole class and does not target individual children, Neden noted.

"It's not saying to a child, 'You're doing this wrong and you need to individually change your behaviour,'" she explained.

"It helps everyone appreciate it and everyone can learn from this, not just a child with special needs."

The time is now

There are ways you can help your child's development at home. The bottom line is parents need to get their children moving, touching and connecting with other people.

""Kids need to move. Let them move," Rowan said. "They need to be touched and they need to be played with. They need to climb trees, roughhouse and play."

"We are what we do and if we sit in front of a TV -- that's what we are," Rowan added. "If we walk into the forest and hike, we're explorers. We become our experience."

The parks and playgrounds miss the laughter and giggles of our children. TVs are not babysitters. Parents have the power to help their kids drop the remotes, mousses and controllers by reintroducing them to a world even more wonderful than virtual reality, from the simple beauty of dandelions in the wind, to the feel of grass between their toes.

Rowan has performed over 200 parent and teacher workshops and run a lecture series at Simon Fraser University. She is currently pushing for a "don't drug, unplug" policy in B.C. schools and hopes one day this will be as important as bullying, nutrition, abuse and fire prevention programs.

For more information on her research and programs, visit