“The average young American spends practically every waking minute – except for the time in school – using electronic media.”
This is how an article on Thursday’s International Herald Tribune starts. The title goes: “Today’s youth always ‘on’, and then some”. These are results of a recent study. The results were a shock to the authors of the study: they had believed in 2005 that media use of the youth had already reached a ceiling – there were just not enough hours in a day for more growth. But they didn’t take multitasking into account. The kids can listen to music, play games and chat with a friend all at the same time. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that of the time used for electronic media, the children dedicate less than an hour a day for traditional channels like TV.
Of course, everybody is worried sick with the situation. Parents are doing their best to limit the media consumption of their children. Other studies have been quick to indicate a connection between heavy media use and several problems, for example lower grades in school.
I’m not saying this isn’t true. The lower grades can be proven easily. It’s not something you can have an opinion about; a lower grade is a lower grade, and apparently the children that use media a lot are more likely to get lower grades.
The easy answer, of course, is that they are so distracted with other things that they don’t have time to do their homework or study for the exams or write their reports. I’m very sure this is true, and a real part of the problem. But could it be – and now you can call me a heretic if you like – just could it be that there’s just too wide a gap between the school reality and the real-life reality? Could it be that the curriculum, the learning environments and the working methods represent a world that’s no longer here? Could it be that it’s one of the reasons to the lower grades of the children who use all their time (except for school hours) for communicating, acquiring information and solving problems in a completely different way, with completely different tools than the ways and tools of the school?
Dr. Michael Rich from Children’s Hospital Boston, the director of the Center on Media and Child’s Health was also interviewed in the article. He said that “…with media use so ubiquitous, it is time to stop arguing over whether it is good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment, like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat”.
Ubiquitous media is here to stay. It has changed the way people work, learn and communicate. This is the reality at work places and in business life. The only exception – as we can also see in this article – is the school. Is it wise to fight the windmills and try to maintain a status quo that’s no longer there? Do we teachers understand the world these students and children will have to work in? Could it be that the behavior we are so quick to condemn and label as “bad habits”- such as multitasking and effective use of ubiquitous media – might in fact be the essential skills the children will need in order to be successful members of the society? Instead, we should realize our responsibility to teach the children to put their valuable multitasking skills into productive use. Children are smart enough to learn to use electronic media on their own, but they need guidance in media literacy and professional use of ubiquitous media. Who is going to teach them that?
Source: Today’s youth always ‘on’, and then some. Tamar Lewin in International Herald Tribune, Thursday, January 21.2010.