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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 01/20/2010

Good news amid screen gloom?

By Valerie Strauss

A new study tells us something we all pretty much know already: young people are spending all of their free time looking at one screen or another--more than 7 1/2 hours a day on electronic media.

My colleague Cecilia Kang blogged about the Kaiser Family Foundation, providing interesting details about the lives of youths.

Among the findings were that those kids and teens who essentially live on a screen do less well in school than kids who don’t, get in more trouble and report being sad. I’m not sure we know whether the screen time caused these problems or whether the kids with troubles retreat to a screen to escape.

But one bit of news that has been portrayed as bad somehow doesn’t seem so bad to me. It was this:

*Kids spend 38 minutes a day reading a print publication, compared to 43 minutes a day 10 years ago.

I’m not thrilled that there was a decline, but the hysteria over kids and reading would lead one to believe that nobody under 18 ever touches a print publication anymore. Going down one minute every two days is not a trend I would want to continue but, just perhaps, might be reversible. Considering the explosion in time in front of a screen, one wonders where the kids find time to actually read print.

Meanwhile, there is another bit of new research from Britain that suggests that some of the time on screen--texting--can actually improve reading skills. It seems hard to believe, given the abbreviations and ungrammatical language used on texts, but here’s what the study says, according to the Telegraph:

Children who use abbreviations such as LOL (laughing our loud) and xxx (kisses) are not likely to have trouble learning to read or spell, and adults can predict the progress of a child’s reading ability by looking at the abbreviated terms used.

The research was conducted for the British Academy, the national academy for humanities and the social sciences.

Researchers studied a group of 8-12-year-olds over one academic year and saw that older children used more abbreviations. The thinking was that some abbreviations used require more sophisticated thought processes. The ability to create abbreviations that convey meaning depends on good phonological awareness, they said, and that exercise can help develop literacy.

Researchers said the ability to contract, clip and manipulate words for texting relies on good phonological awareness, and that doing so can help develop literacy.

Said Clare Wood of Coventry University, who led the research: "Children’s use of textisms is far from problematic. If we are seeing a decline in literacy standards among young children, it is in spite of text messaging, not because of it.”


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By Valerie Strauss  | January 20, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Technology  | Tags:  technology and kids  
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Thanks for pointing out that screen time and grades are a chicken-and-egg situation. Also, students (and adults) might spend more time reading print publications if there were more of them worthy of being read. Newsweek used to be a way to catch up on stories if you missed the evening news or to lear the background of the events, but now it just analyzes the significance of various topics. Women's magazines used to interview women in the news, but now they just offer tips on diet, exercise, or sex. Even the front page of the daily papers, that used to tell you at a glance what important event happened, now tell us such things as who the new baseball coach is and that the Christmas decorations of a woman in my town were entirely dedicated to the "Wizard of OZ."

Posted by: sideswiththekids | January 21, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

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