The average child between the age of 8-18 "now spends practically every waking minute - except for the time in school - using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device" according to a study that didn't receive the wide discussion it deserved when released in 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Specifically, they spend more than seven and a half hours a day with such devices. And that doesn't count the 1.5 hours spent texting, or the half-hour they talk on their cell phones.
And because they multi-task (for example, surfing the net while listening to their iPod), they manage cramming nearly 11 hours of media content into that seven and a half hours.
The study also found that heavy media use is associated with behavior problems, poor grades and obesity. According to the study, the "heaviest media users were also more likely to report that they were bored or sad, or that they got into trouble, did not get along well with their parents and were not happy at school."
Despite the alarming amount of time being spent with media, and the negatives associated with its heavy use, Dr. Michael Rich (a pediatrician at Children's Hospital Boston who directs the Center on Media and Child Health) said that it was time to stop arguing over whether it was good or bad and accept it as part of children's environment.
I'm sorry. Excuse me?
Thank goodness for the simple sanity of Victoria Rideout, a Kaiser vice president and lead author of the study, who said that although it has become harder for parents to control what their children do, they can still have an effect.
"They can still make rules and it still makes a difference."
An increasing number of parents today seem to throw up their hands in defeat in the face of their cultural surroundings as if they are powerless to do anything about their child's friends, education and use of media.
Let's call it what it is: passive parenting.
A passive parent is someone who sees what needs to be addressed, sees what needs to be attended, and doesn't attend to it. "Giving in" and "going along" becomes paramount to their thinking.
"You're wearing that? Well, I guess everyone is."
"You want to watch what? Well, if everyone is."
"You want to do what? Well, if the others are."
In truth, they are abdicating their role. They are not doing what they are called to do as a parent. The assumption with parenting is simple: your children are immature and need your maturity. Yet some parents are more eager to be liked, or accepted by their kids, than they are to be parents to their kids.
So instead of being active, they're passive.
Let me state what I hope is obvious: seven and a half hours a day with media is wrong. No parent should allow it. Force them (yes, I said "force") to read, to use their imagination, to get outside and play with a dog or participate in a sport.
I know, that means becoming an active parent.
But unless I'm mistaken, that's what parenting is about.
James Emery White
Tamar Lewin, "Children Awake? Then They're Probably Online," The New York Times, Wednesday, January 20, 2010, p. A1 and A3. Online at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/20/education/20wired.html?scp=1&sq=Children%20Awake?%20%20Then%20They're%20Probably%20Online&st=cse
Greg Toppo, "Kids' digital day: Almost 8 hours," USA Today, Wednesday, January 20, 2010, p. 1A.
Matt Richtel, "Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction," The New York Times, Sunday, November 21, 2010, p. A1 and A20. Online at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/technology/21brain.html?scp=10&sq=Matt%20Richtel&st=cse
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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