A new study shows a sizeable number of children in Utah are spending nearly one out of five of their waking hours in front of a computer screen — most of the time engaged in social networking.
Not to debate the merits of social media, the fact that so much time is lost on such sedentary behavior is in itself troubling, and something parents need to take notice of.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey documented that 19 percent of kids in Utah spend more than three hours a day on a computer. That, by the way, is a smaller percentage than kids nationally. The survey also shows that while computer use has increased among kids on a national basis, the same kids are watching less television.
But seriously, three hours a day?
It is a staggering testament to the ubiquitous lure of technology, which allows people to live lives more "virtual" than actual. Kids make friends on Facebook, but it is a category of friendship completely foreign to those of preceding generations. So foreign, in fact, that it is often difficult for parents to assess either positive or negative impact.
The CDC study outlines potentially harmful consequences, the obvious being a commensurate lack of physical activity. The survey also shows that one in six kids had been bullied through email, chat rooms, websites, instant messages or texting during a 12-month period.
Another recent study, by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, offers detail to pre-adolescent online activity. According to Pew, 34 percent of children ages 12-13 online regularly visit video chat rooms. Twenty-seven percent of those 12-17 years old regularly upload video.
It is easy to jump to conclusions about what kids might be exposed to in the various salons of social media. The experience may be entirely harmless — or not. The question is whether parents are sufficiently disposed to find out and, if necessary, do something about it. The fact that so many kids spend so much time online suggests some degree of parental disengagement, or possibly, naivete.
Software companies and social media sites offer a large array of tools to help parents follow their child's online wanderings. It is in the vested interest of those companies to ensure a safe experience, lest households start unplugging their computers, which certainly some have done and others have been tempted to do.
What defines the difference between use and overuse of social media? That is up to each family or individual. Online networking may have opened a vast new universe of human communication, but the recent research clearly points to the importance of a certain kind of traditional communication — face to face between parent and child.
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