Children spend slightly less time watching television than they did two decades ago, according to a study performed by the University of Michigan in 2004. However, they’re not necessarily using the extra time on sports or social activities. The study also reported that children now spend several hours a week on their computers, something that wasn’t included in studies performed in the '80s. The University of Michigan theorized that the few hours children were no longer spending watching TV were instead being spent in front of their computers.
According to the University of Michigan study, 76 percent of U.S. children have computers and access to the Internet in their homes, and those between 12 and 17 years of age log in approximately five hours a week to use them. Comparatively, they spend up to 14 hours a week watching television. Statistically, time on the computer seems to be less than TV time. A third of the students had computers in their bedrooms with unsupervised Internet access, finds a survey performed by the Kaiser Family Foundation of over 2,000 students.
According to Rasmussen Reports, a polling company, slightly more than half of adults polled said they would prefer that children spent time on computers as opposed to watching TV, but 75 percent of them also felt that young children spend too much time on computers.
Sedentary time, such as that spent on computers, has been linked to weight problems in children, says the Healthykids website. Economist Frank Stafford, one of the authors of the University of Michigan study, also blames computer time for an increase in obesity in children, because it takes them away from outdoor sports and activities. The Kaiser survey linked heavy media use by children, including computer usage, to behavior problems and lower grades.
Donald Roberts, contributing author to the Kaiser survey and a professor emeritus in communications at Stanford University, says that the positive power of computers and the Internet should not be overlooked. He points out that the Internet has broadened children's horizons and has made it easier for them to find answers, because a click of the mouse can result in a flood of information. KidSource Online recommends that children in grade school have access to computers, but with age-appropriate capabilities and software. When three- and four-year-old children are given appropriate computer access, they make greater developmental strides than those who are not.
Victoria Rideout, a principal author of the Kaiser survey, suggests that the negative effects of computer usage by children can be offset by parents getting involved and making rules regarding both how long the kids spend on the computer and what they do there.