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TV, games, iPods vs. school

I was at first suspicious of the new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation saying our children are averaging 7.5 hours a day immersed in electronic media. I had been complaining for years, based on a University of Michigan study, that high schoolers are spending less than an hour a day on homework and more than two hours a day on TV. That was bad enough, but 7.5 hours a day of chatter and games and music and the tube?

I have read the methodology section and don't see any obvious flaws. The study does depend on the children's answers to a survey, and diaries they kept. Nobody sat there and wrote down what they did as they did it. Some of that time spent on the computer could have been school work, and the conversations with friends, even texting, are emotionally important to growing up. But still, that is a lot of wasted time. Other studies indicate the average daily time spent on homework is still hovering around 45 minutes for high schoolers. Younger kids do less.

This is not good. I don't see anyone making any good suggestions what do to about it. What do you think? Creative teaching can adopt some of these devices, I suppose. You don't have to do all of your reading in books. Internet searches are vital in any research these days, including mine.

But still, I'm worried. If this doesn't bother you, I'd like to know why. If it does, what can we do about it?

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By Jay Mathews  | January 21, 2010; 2:20 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  TV use, TV watching hurts school, homework, iPods, kids wasting time, too much TV watching, too much time spent online, video games  
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As a parent, the overuse of computers and other devices bothers me a great deal. But I feel that too much burden is placed on parents to regulate usage, and schools need to do their part, too. I would really like to tell my kids that they are not allowed on the computer during a certain time of the evening -- but they tell me they "need" the computer and internet for their school work, and when I check on their claim, it is true. Almost everything a school assigns these days requires the internet -- don't teachers and administrators understand that kids cannot stay focused with the world (literally) at their fingertips?

I spend way too much time yelling at my kids to "get off" certain sites and get back to work on the computer. I don't think I'm alone.

Posted by: trace1 | January 21, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

The flaw is the assumption that usage of these devices is inherently bad. Some poor students may have problems managing their time and their tasks, but that doesn't mean everyone will. The top colleges are swamped with applications from students who probably fit into this dynamic and have no problem managing.

In the 70's we wasted time on the telephone, or just sitting around BS'ing, or often much worse. Kids now seem to spend a ton of time communicating on their electronic toys, but those toys are miracles of modern communication and enable positive interactions as well as negative.

There's probably room for line here about correlation and causation...

Posted by: JkR- | January 21, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

to trace 1, I get your point about so many assignments needing to use a computer ( ps I think computers are more than just a passing fad and are here to stay) but do you really want me as your child's teacher to "regulate" anything that goes on in your home?

Posted by: mamoore1 | January 21, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Challenging fix but just a few suggestions:

1) block certain websites via parental control
2) minimize (or ban altogher) myspace, facebook, twitter etc.
(this will eliminate huge amounts of "socializing on computer" time)
3) establish rules that computers are for schoolwork and research only and stick to it.
4) get kids involved in community and school activities.
5) have computers in central study areas of the house only (where parents can peak in regularly).

It's gotten so bad that kids that live across town from one another are now linked together and playing computer games.

Posted by: TwoSons | January 21, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

great thoughts! more please.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 21, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse


Heavens, no, I don't want you to "regulate" my home. But I wish teachers would limit assignments requiring the use of the internet.

Sorry to tell you - it's not just "poor" students that have trouble managing their time on the computer. Kids do not have fully developed impulse control - simple matter of biology.

And yes, I had access to a family phone line shared by 5 people in a public space. Hard to compare that to the distraction of a cell phone in a kid's pocket.

Finally, child psychiatrists might say that kids don't do enough "sitting around BSing" these days. It requires face-to-face communication and interaction, and was probably an overall positive, not negative.

Posted by: trace1 | January 21, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

By the way, my 13-year-old does not have a cellphone or Facebook account. She claims "everyone else does." The computer is in a public space.

We are doing what we can at home to minimize distractions, but it would be nice if the school recognized how difficult it is for kids to stay focused on the computer.

Posted by: trace1 | January 21, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

I would love for more schools to adopt the Waldorf philosophy where parents sign a contract stating that their children will not watch television or play videogames during the school week. We don't have cable/satellite (and get no reception) and my kids have fairly strict limits on their use of DVD's & the Wii. Though during the rainy winter, I don't count time doing fitness games against them since they have less opportunity for outdoor exercise.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | January 21, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

two sons you are Dead on, when you as a parent take control you are doing the right thing, and the chances of your children doing well soar. When parents fail to do this and expect others to teach their children self control the result can be a little more messy. Children avoided work, and were off task long before the internet.The internet is the most powerful information sharing tool ever. Children who use to it's full extent are empowered, children whose parents lack basic control and need other to help them set limits and boundries within their own houses are enabled

Posted by: mamoore1 | January 21, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

more you say?

7) hand held electronic devices: only grant certain amount of voice minutes and txt msgs./line. After limit has been reached, arrange will cell phone carrier to shut down line. If cell phone carrier does not allow this feature, monitor cell phone usage online regularly and TAKE IT for the remaining quarter of school calender if "minute/txt" rule is broken

8) turn ALL TVs OFF for a pre-established timeline during school week. (Ours are typically off between 8-10 pm) tell kids to READ A BOOK! even if homework is completed.

9) order more more more books and magazines that support kids interest.

10) do crafts, create fun projects or build stuff together (kids love seeing what they've made with their own two hands)

11) Establish who is in charge i.e., the adults in the house...MOTHER, FATHER or GUARDIAN.

Posted by: TwoSons | January 21, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

thanks mamoore1, it's tough but eventually kids basically get use to it.

one more and this is a biggy...

do not, under any circumstances allow kids, especially teenagers, to have cable TV in their bedrooms! this helped tremendously in assuring got proper rest during the school week and they actually go to sleep when they go to bed.

but keeping them busy just works best overall.

Posted by: TwoSons | January 21, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

I thought the whole goal of education reform was generating 21st century learners. Therefore, is technology not going to be a big part of that strategy?

Posted by: tjbrookshire | January 21, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

I'm with trace1. The internet is powerful -- agreed. But too many teachers are using the internet as an easy way to incorporate those ill-defined "21st Century Skills" without thinking through the value of the assignment.

Teachers must consider whether the internet is actually adding value or is simply being used because the administration wants the kids to use the internet.

I have teachers proudly claiming that the students in their classes are reading blogs and leaving comments. Unfortunately, blogs are notoriously unreliable -- some are great some are grossly inaccurate -- and how is a 10 year old going to know the difference?

I had another teacher assign my son the task to upload a video to youtube. Any video, she really didn't care; she just wanted to see something up there from the students. Why? What value is that? How do I stop youtube usage when I have teachers giving out lame assignments like this?

I'm willing to do my share, I've blocked websites and limited the tv time. I want the teachers and schools to do their part, too. Make sure every computer or internet assignment has real educational value and isn't just filling time.

Posted by: EduCrazy | January 21, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

As I say in this post

For my parents the internet is a book.
For me it is a tool.
For my nieces and nephews it is reality.

Assuming that the activities are any worse than the way we spent time as a kid is a mistake. They are just different. It would mean missing an opportunity to help kids get where they need to go.

My concern is only that they get the proper amount of physical exercise not that they are rotting their brains.

Posted by: ChrisFinlay | January 22, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

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