your­fam­ily Kids use tech giz­mos 7 hours daily

STUDY | Par­ents who try to set lim­its could risk tem­per tantrums

Chicago Sun-Times - - Easy - BY LEANNE ITALIE

Like many work­ing par­ents, Bev­erly Flax­ing­ton armed her daugh­ter with a cell phone in fifth grade, when the time came for her to ven­ture out alone. At first, it was a great way to stay in touch. That was then. Now 13, Sa­man­tha’s grades have slipped dras­ti­cally and she’s ob­sessed with tex­ting, Face­book and her lap­top, some­times fall­ing asleep in her clothes clutch­ing her phone. When her tex­ting ex­ceeded 2,000 mes­sages a day, her par­ents shut off the func­tion from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. on school nights, and Sam “just went nuts.”

“She slammed doors. She ac­cused us of be­ing overly con­ser­va­tive when all of her friends are able to do things at night,” said Flax­ing­ton. “She didn’t speak to me for three days. She broke things. You’re left with the choice of do I make her a leper be­cause she’s not a part of this or do I just spend all of my time fight­ing.”

Smart phones, MP3 play­ers, lap­tops and other de­vices are the air kids breathe — per­haps too deeply, judg­ing from a new study that shows chil­dren ages 8 to 18 de­vote an av­er­age of seven hours and 38 min­utes a day con­sum­ing some form of me­dia for fun. That’s an hour and 17 min­utes more than they did five years ago, said the study’s spon­sor, the Henry J. Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion. And they’re cham­pion mul­ti­taskers, pack­ing con­tent on top of con­tent for an even heav­ier on­slaught.

“This is a game changer,” co-au­thor Don­ald Roberts said dur­ing a panel dis­cus­sion when the sur­vey of 2,002 young peo­ple was re­leased last week. “We’re re­ally close to kids be­ing on­line 24/7.”

Kids, the sur­vey showed, now spend more time lis­ten­ing to mu­sic, play­ing games and watch­ing TV on their cell phones than talk­ing on them. Per­haps more sur­pris­ing: Only about three in 10 said their par­ents have rules about how much time they can spend watch­ing TV or play­ing video games.

Not all par­ents con­sider all that time spent on tech­nol­ogy a bad thing. Craig Kaminer’s 19-year-old and 16-year-old boys have lap­tops, high-speed In­ter­net con­nec­tions, Xbox, HDTV, iPhones, video chat, iPods, GPSes, Direc­tTV with DVR, Kin­dles and dig­i­tal cam­eras.

“They’re con­nected to the In­ter­net, each other and us from the sec­ond they wake up un­til they go to sleep,” said Kaminer. “In gen­eral, they’re very grounded and han­dle the bal­ance well.”

Oth­ers, though, find bal­ance elu­sive. Things changed for Betsy Tant when her 11year-old daugh­ter re­ceived an iTouch for Christ­mas.

“She’s ob­sessed with it all of a sud­den,” said Tant, 40. “That re­ally caught me of­f­guard. She’s had a com­puter for a while, but now she wants to check her e-mail all the time. We’ve had to set lim­its.”

Tant con­sid­ers her­self an ex­cep­tion in the limit-set­ting depart­ment, re­fus­ing to pro­vide her daugh­ter text ser­vice, for in­stance. Many par­ents she knows don’t bother.

“It gets them out of their hair, I think,” she said.

With so much temp­ta­tion — In­ter­nete­quipped mo­bile de­vices, bet­ter home con­nec­tiv­ity, video gam­ing on­line and off, so­cial me­dia and TV-like con­tent on any de­vice — many par­ents say school­work is suf­fer­ing.

The re­searchers warned that fur­ther study is re­quired to link me­dia use with any im­pact on the health of young peo­ple or their grades. But 47 per­cent of heavy me­dia users among those sur­veyed said they earn mostly Cs or lower, com­pared with 23 per­cent of light users. The study classified heavy users as con­sum­ing more than 16 hours a day and light users as less than three hours.

Flax­ing­ton, 49, learned in Novem­ber that her teen went weeks without turn­ing in home­work in math and other sub­jects, so they ar­ranged for her to com­plete as­sign­ments at the end of the day at school, where cell phones are banned and com­put­ers weren’t avail­able.

“It was im­pos­si­ble to get her to fo­cus at home,” Flax­ing­ton said.

Dr. Rus­sell Hyken, a ther­a­pist who spe­cial­izes in tweens and teens, is see­ing a grow­ing num­ber of young pa­tients with ob­ses­sive in­ter­est in gam­ing and com­put­ers, in­clud­ing a high school ju­nior who took to uri­nat­ing in a bot­tle while play­ing on­line and a col­lege kid who shaved his head to save time on hair wash­ing in the shower so he could re­turn to the com­puter more quickly.

Both, he said, were sent to res­i­den­tial treat­ment pro­grams for those and re­lated prob­lems.

“It’s al­most an ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive de­sire to be the best. One client had to be in the top five scores on a Web site at which half a mil­lion peo­ple were play­ing,” Hyken said. “They’re us­ing it as a way to es­cape re­al­ity.”

Marci Gerwe con­sid­ers her­self among the lucky: Her boys, ages 13 and 15, abide by fam­ily rules. No lap­tops af­ter 10 p.m. No video games dur­ing the week un­less they’re ex­er­cis­ing at the same time. And ab­so­lutely no tex­ting dur­ing meals.

Still, she says she has watched their habits change dra­mat­i­cally in the last two years.

“With tex­ting and Face­book, I’m see­ing there’s a whole loss of abil­ity to in­ter­act or talk on a more per­sonal level, es­pe­cially for my older one,” she said. “There’s a lot of con­fu­sion over what peo­ple mean.”

And many par­ents re­port less than stel­lar suc­cess with im­pos­ing re­stric­tions on mo­bile de­vices and com­put­ers. Young peo­ple are ge­nius in find­ing ways around them.

Beth Shu­mate said her 13-year-old and 15year-old boys are so ob­sessed with the mas­sive on­line quest game RuneS­cape that she locks the lap­top, key­board and mouse in her car at night. Be­fore she took that step, “I caught my 13-year-old play­ing it at 5:30 in the morn­ing.”

Hyken said there’s no way around the need for par­ents to take charge. He sug­gests set­ting up a cen­tral lo­ca­tion far from bed­rooms at night to plug in all de­vices, and hold­ing firm on no TV or com­puter use af­ter cer­tain hours, with ab­so­lutely none dur­ing meals. En­cour­age ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties away from home, where use of mo­bile de­vices would be im­pos­si­ble, like sports.

“It’s never too late to start but much harder when they’re 15 or 16,” he said. “If a kid is mak­ing good grades and is in some ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­ity or work­ing part-time, and they’re nice to their par­ents, you’ve won the game.”

AP

CHRISTO­PHER BERKEY~AP

The cell phone is off lim­its while Will Ste­wart, 15, (left) and his brother Harry, 13, do their home­work. “With tex­ting and Face­book, I’m see­ing there’s a whole loss of abil­ity to in­ter­act or talk on a more per­sonal level,” said their mother Marci...

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