December 2010 - Vol. 45

Parents: are you paying attention?
by Michael Shaughnessy

Parents who believe that playing a video game is less harmful to a child's attention span than watching TV may want to reconsider and unplug the Xbox. Video games can sap a child's attention just as much or more than the tube, a new study suggests.

According to Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Association of Pediatrics, television and video game exposure is clearly associated with attention problems.

An article, published 5 July, 2010, revealed four key things. First, playing video games is associated with attention problems. Second, video game playing has a stronger association with attention problems than watching television. Third, it ruled out the possibility that the association between screen media use and an attention problem is merely the result of children with attention problems being especially attracted to screen media. Fourth, it showed that attention problems caused by media exposure may be quite long
lasting or cumulative.

What the study recommends for followup is testing whether the type of screen time makes a difference. Some have hypothesized that faster paced screen changes will cause more attention problems than slower paced ones, or that pleasure games and educational ones will differ.

The American Association of Pediatrics recommends screen media be limited to two hours or less per day for children. It found that those who logged more than two hours of TV and video games per day were about twice as likely to have attention problems.
Youth and media in America

According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation published in January of 2010, there has been a large increase in electronic media use among young people since 2005, when 8- to 18-year-olds averaged 380 minutes per day with media. By 2010 those use levels rose to 460 minutes a 21% increase.

Counting the use of multiple media at one time, youth were spending an additional 130 minutes per day on media in 2005. Such multitasking increased 26% by 2010 when total media exposure per day among youth averaged 645 minutes.

Media use is highest among those aged 11-18 at 705 minutes. It is about 480 minutes for those aged 8-10.

The unanswered question is, what are they no longer doing? Reading, exercising, relating to people, studying and doing chores are the likely candidates.

Since 2005, ownership of a portable music device by 8-18-year-olds has jumped from 61% to 76%.
Cell phone ownership has gone from from 39% to 66%
Laptop ownership has gone from from 12% to 29%

[Mike Shaughnessy is an elder in The Servants of the Word and the Director of Kairos in North America. Kairos is an international federation of outreaches to high school, university and post university aged people.].
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