Too Much Media is the Message: Students should spend less time with technology and more with adults

Commentary, Education, Michael Zwaagstra


Blackberries, i-pods, texting, high-definition TV, Kindle book readers and MP-3 players. All of these were virtually unheard of just a few short years ago and now they are commonplace. It shows just how quickly technology changes and the extent to which it can dominate—and interfere with, our lives.
The Kaiser Family Foundation recently released a study entitled Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 10- Year-Olds. In their survey of more than 2,000 young people from across the United States, they found the time spent by 8- to 18- year-olds with various media every day increased by more than 20 percent over the past five years. In fact, young people now spend more time watching, texting and “surfing” than anything else. (The possible exception is sleeping.)
Compared with five years ago, the time spent watching television is up 16 percent, computer use is up by 44 percent, and video game playing went up a whopping 49 percent. Meanwhile, reading any form of print (i.e., books, newspapers, magazines) declined by almost 12 percent.
The study divided young people into three major categories: heavy users, moderate users, and light users. Heavy users consumed more than 16 hours of media content in an average day, moderate users between three and 16 hours, while light users consumed less than three hours daily.
After controlling for variables such as age, race, and income-level, researchers found light media users have the highest levels of personal contentment in virtually every category measured. Heavy media users were far more likely to be discontented, most likely to be bored, be dissatisfied with school, indicate unhappiness with life, and get into trouble.
Something all parents should note is how heavy media users were also more than twice as likely to receive poor grades in school as light media users. This provides another solid reason to question the claim schools must place a higher emphasis on bringing technology into the classroom.
While it can be argued schools have a role in educating students about the proper use of media—though they appear to have no problem figuring out usage all on their own—an excessive focus on computer use in the early grades hardly seems a  proper way to send this message. Schools should primarily focus on providing students with a solid grounding in the academic basics. Only once this is done should computers be introduced into the classroom, and even then only in moderation.
On that note, a report produced by the Alliance for Childhood entitled Fool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood backs up this point. It noted there is no evidence that increased computer usage among younger students has a positive effect on academic achievement. The report also identifies the health hazards associated with sedentary habits and criticizes schools for promoting this lifestyle by over-emphasizing computer usage
In the same vein, Stanford University education professor Larry Cuban had this to say about technology in the classroom: “There is no clear, commanding body of evidence that students’ sustained use of multimedia machines, the Internet, word processing, spreadsheets, and other popular applications has any impact on academic achievement.”
However, what research does show is that students benefit greatly from time spent with adult role models. So instead of plopping a child in front of the television or allowing him to mindlessly surf the internet, parents would be well-advised to guard against excessive use of technology and take their kid to a hockey game, or some other activity.
Significantly, the Kaiser report found that parents who take measures to restrict their children’s media usage significant impacted the choices of their children. Proactive steps as simple as turning the television off during dinner, not putting televisions in bedrooms, and placing restrictions on computer access and video game time substantially reduced the amount of media use by their children.
While technology is here to stay, parents and teachers need to do whatever they can to promote a balanced use of technology. That doesn’t include allowing young people to spend most of their waking hours watching television, texting, and internet surfing.