Do You Know Where Your Children Are?
As reported in the New York Times, the Kaiser Family Foundation has published a study indicating that the average American child under eighteen years of age spends an amazing seven-and-a-half hours per day online or otherwise connected with media. This average time spent connected is up over an hour per day from the Kaiser Foundation’s previous study done four years ago. The researchers were quite surprised by their findings, apparently, because they had thought that the six-and-a-half hours of connected time reported in 2005 represented the apex of the trend.
Ten Hours or More
The present study doesn’t even take into account various hand-held media such as texting, cell-phone use, or laptops. Nor does it allow for the fact of multi-tasking. When both of these factors are considered, the researchers speculate that the average American youth is exposed to over ten hours of social and entertainment media per day.
If my poor, sainted mother were alive today, this study would kill her. When my siblings and I were youngsters back in the dark times known as the fifties and the sixties, she waged her own personal war against that most despicable of all childhood activities. Yes, I am referring to frittering—her word, not mine—and I am here to testify that I am where I am today because I never frittered. Or more specifically, I never frittered in front of her.
This was a woman who would allow me one comic book a month. And then it had to be an Archie comic, or one of those classic comics such as Gulliver’s Travels or Robin Hood. Television was one hour per week, period, just long enough for either Bonanza or Disney, but not both.
And movies? If a movie had a G rating, and if it was showing at the drive-in, and if my parents had five dollars, all three of which were pretty big if’s, then we got to see a movie. To this day, every time I see Mary Poppins, it makes me want to climb into the back seat of a 1957 Ford, drink warm Kool-aid, munch cold, chewy homemade popcorn, breathe second-hand smoke, and watch one of my siblings get backhanded from the back the front seat. Talk about the good old days.
Frittering Takes Time
All of which brings us the long way around the barn and back to the Kaiser Foundation study. With children spending an average of seven-and-a-half hours per day connected, that means that some are spending much more. And even though the internet is the literal doorway to all the knowledge in the world, somehow I get the feeling that not all of this net time is being spent at the Library of Congress Rare Book site or over at the Discovery Channel website.
According to the Pew Research Center, the estimated 21 million American teens who regularly use the internet spend the majority of their online time sharing music and video files, on social networking sites, and with online gaming. Sounds like a whole lot of frittering going on, to me. You've sort of got to wonder where Mom and Dad are.
Bad News on the Horizon
In 2009, the National Center for Educational Statistics found that American high school students came in a mediocre 34th in math literacy when compared to students in other nations. They came in an equally sobering 28th in science literacy when compared to the same group. What’s happening? I don't claim to know the full answer, but I know what Mama might have said. She'd say that the young folks today are frittering away our future. Frittering. Which rhymes with Twittering. And as those of you who recall The Music Man might remember, that stands for trouble in River City.