The study postulated a number of theories for why this might be the case, but leaned quite heavily in favour of two specific factors. The first they called the “excitement hypothesis”. It notes, quite logically, that video games are exciting and fun, as opposed to many of the more mundane tasks of daily life and especially more engaging than traditional schoolwork, particularly for those students who find it difficult to learn and stay on task. The study states: “the greater the contrast between electronic media content and work or school tasks, the more difficult it could become to focus on work or school”. Now granted you don't need to undertake a formal research study to figure this out - "watching TV is more fun than doing homework!", but it's always nice when research corroborates common sense!
The second theory was categorized as the “displacement hypothesis”. This theorizes that time spent “with TV or video games might simply displace time that would have otherwise been spent on other activities that would have allowed for greater development of impulse control.” In other words, because watching TV or playing a video game does not require excessive self-control, it may actually weaken one’s ability to exert self-control over time. If this is actually the case, then the content of the media shouldn’t make any difference – Sponge Bob or Animal Planet should have the same effect!
Taken to its extreme, there is a growing body of research that would suggest an emergent issue with internet "addiction" among a portion of the population. There is no question that the Internet has made life a lot easier by making information more accessible to all, and creating connections with different people around the world. However, it has also led a lot of people to spend too much time in front of the computer, so much so that it becomes the most important part of their day. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V, the guidelines that are used to determine a diagnosis on a student's psych-ed) actually includes it as "a disorder that needs further study and research". A recent study in Poland showed that excessive internet use was seen to be so popular and common among young people, that it was possible that one in four children were in danger of becoming addicted to the Internet. In my own experience, over the past few years I have worked with more and more families with children who are resistant to attending school because they prefer to stay at home and pursue their online "lives".
So what does this mean for parents and educators? Should we, as good Luddites, be taking the axe to our television sets, iPads and computers? Not really. The issue is less the technology itself, and more about how it is being used. Reading and writing; research; problem-solving; communication and collaboration can all be enhanced through the effective use of hands-on tech and online resources. The research however is a good reminder that what we might use on occasion as an engaging or distracting strategy with our kids, could be counter-productive in the long run. The secret, as always, is balance and moderation. There is nothing inherently wrong with a student watching television or playing on the computer as long as it is monitored, not so much for content perhaps, as for duration. Other recreational activities requiring more self-control and focus – reading, bike riding, playing ball, etc. can reinforce a child’s self-control mechanisms and make them less distractible.
At our meetings over the past week, the KGMS/Maplewood staff recommitted ourselves to helping students (and adults) cut back on the gratuitous use of technology before school and at recess and lunch. A moment of leisure should not be seen as a window to immediately go online rather than go outside.
My grandmother always used to say that watching too much television was bad for you. Turns out, she was right!