Does Online Time Hurt Kids' Face Time?

Are kids spending too much time online? It’s a question posed by parents around the country, as they try to raise thoughtful, intelligent and well-behaved children in today’s busy world.

A new study from the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future found more and more parents are concerned that increased amounts of time their children spend online, social networking, twittering and instant messaging each other is decreasing their face time with family members and even the very same friends they are communicating with digitally.

According to the study, which queried roughly 2,000 families, more than half of parents now restrict Internet use as a form of punishment. In addition, it seems the amount of time families spend with each other face to face has gone down 25 percent over the past three years.

“They should be encouraging their kids to do other things,” says Robert Myers, a child psychologist. “As far as brain development goes, playing with toys, building things for younger kids, fantasy play are much more important in child development than what you’re going to watch on a screen,” adds Myers.

But other experts in the field disagree. Karen Sternheimer, a sociologist who works on kids issues, says she’s concerned about the flipside of this issue. “It’s the kids who never have been on Facebook, MySpace, who don’t know the logic of social networking. I am more concerned in the long run that they will be left behind in the market place,” insists Sternheimer.

The study also found that parents who are concerned about their kids spending too much time in front of a screen have begun to apply supervisory approaches to the new medium, much like they do with television.

The report doesn’t offer any solutions, but researchers who worked on the study agree that parents should set guidelines, and look for ways to spend quality family time together. They say even one family dinner a week can make a difference when it comes to engaging in conversation and promoting verbal skills and the all important “face time.”