Kids, computers, and the flabbening of society
Lately, I've been spending too much time as a glorified baby-sitter for my two-year-old son, who has a very slight respiratory irritation (i.e., doesn't get to go play with his "new friends" at daycare.) As any experienced zookeeper knows, watching young primates is a very draining task, since this particular species has strong abstracting skills and carefully plans mischief during times of no immediate monitoring. Thus, I've been forced to keep one eye on the primate, but another on the television. Naturally, because of such circumstances, my I.Q. has dropped significantly, though I hope this is only a temporary condition. Fortunately for my other, older children (six and nine), my mandated reign of the living room has given them access to my computer. They have now become dedicated real time strategy game players. As a matter of science, this is good for them in some ways:
A study of elementary school students found that children who had television sets in their bedrooms scored significantly lower on school achievement tests than children without TVs in their bedrooms. Having a computer in the home was associated with higher test scores, according to the same study, which was conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Stanford University.
Apparently the drop is about eight points worth on standardized tests if they have a TV in the bed room (mine don't), but plus six points on the same kinds of tests with a computer. But I'm pretty sure the kind of software on the computer matters a whole lot. (Surely Barbie Fashion Show can't compete with Dawn of War for sheer I.Q. increase.)
Still, there's more to life than cognition. Other scientific studies, such as one by Paul Attewell (et. al.) in 2003, have shown there are physical drawbacks:
We observe modest benefits associated with home computing on three tests of cognitive skill, and on a measure of self-esteem. Most young children who spend time at home on computer-based activities spend no less time on activities such as reading, sports or outside play than children without home computers. However, young children who use home computers a lot, for over 8 hours a week, spend much less time on sports and outdoor activities than non-computer-users. They also have substantially heavier body mass index than children who do not use home computers.
So, the the ever-growing fat-n-flab ratio is amplified by the kind of techno-computer entertainment lifestyle, the one in which the newest generation regularly engages. And right now, I'm a part of the problem. I'm encouraging the flabbening of society -- that's right: flabbening. And I respect a word that captures the unfriendly trend in BMI index for the college students I'll see over the next few years.
In the not too distant past, I remember going to a college play where many of the college-age girls lined up and did some sort of dance and sing part, and I recall thinking, "My, that's quite a beefy line-up!" Now what's interesting is these girls were some of the most popular on campus. So apparently there has been a realignment of aesthetic beauty as a result of the BMI trends. I guess that's no surprise, really. But as I said, my I.Q. has been lowered by constant exposure to TV as of late.
#1 "Welcome to the Official UK Documents Archive 2 website"
#2 "Growing Trend" Chicago Tribune
 "Television In The Bedroom May Hurt Child's School Performance" Science Daily (Accessed 7/26/2007)
 Attewell, Paul A. "Computers and Young Children: Social Benefit or Social Problem?" Social Forces - Volume 82, Number 1, September 2003, pp. 277-296