Do children really spend less time outdoors or doing sports? Have they stopped reading? Do they only stare at screens all day?
The best way to answer this question is to look at what kids actually do all day, and a recent study did just that with a large group of kids, age 6-12. These children were asked what they did all day in 1997 and then asked again in 2003 (Hofferth, 2010). Noting the increase in consumption of media, the researcher was interested in the association of new media time with playing, sleeping, etc. What I found fascinating was not all the time that kids are spending looking at screens, we know that, but the time they are spending doing other things, or NOT doing other things. Keep in mind, these changes occurred over just 6 years. And media time has only gone up since 2003.
- Non screen play was DOWN while non screen studying was UP
- Participation in Outdoor activities DOWN by nearly 50%
- Kids were playing sports nearly 2 hours less a week in 2003
- A small silver lining… reading for pleasure UP, by around 45 minutes
- In 1997 screen time was about 21% of a child’s total playtime, in 2003 it was up to 33%
Bottom line — it looks like kids were staring at screens about 2 1/2 hours more a week in 2003. They also spent more time studying and reading for pleasure, while less time outdoors or doing sports.
Hmmmm… could these patterns be contributing to the obesity trend?
The study also talks a lot more about the relationship of media with achievement and other factors. I wrote about some of the findings here, and will continue to unpack the findings in a future post.