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Updated 11:30 AM December 6, 2004




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U.S. children and teens spend more time on academics

American children and teens spend about four hours a week on homework and attend school for about 32.5 hours a week, according to a U-M study that provides a detailed snapshot of the way school-age children spend their time.

That's about 7.5 hours a week more than children ages 6-17 spent on academics 20 years ago.

The study is based on a nationally representative sample of 2,907 children and adolescents. It offers the first look in more than two decades at how the nation's teens spend their time, showing that while some patterns of time use have changed considerably, others have remained much the same.

For example, today's children and teens spend more than 14 hours a week watching television—almost as much time as children did 20 years ago. They spend 2.75 hours a week using home computers—a category of time-use that didn't exist in the early 1980s. But contemporary kids spend much less time outside and engaging in organized sports.
Contemporary kids spend much less time outside and engaging in
organized sports.

The study was conducted by economists F. Thomas Juster and Frank Stafford and sociologist Hiromi Ono at the Institute for Social Research (ISR). "Major changes have taken place in how children and teens spend their time," Stafford says. "For example, children ages 6-8 spend almost seven hours a day in school today, compared with about five hours a day 20 years ago."

Children also are spending more than two hours more a week engaged in personal care—bathing and grooming themselves and taking care of others, including younger siblings.

For the study, researchers asked children age 10 and older to fill out time diaries for two randomly selected days—one on a weekday and another during the week. Younger children were asked to fill out the time diaries with help from their parents.

Among the highlights:

Gender differences: Girls ages 6-17 spend an average of six hours a week playing, compared to 10 hours a week for boys the same age. Girls also spend less time than boys participating in sports. They spend almost two hours a week more than boys engaged in household work and in personal care, and nearly an hour more a week studying. Boys spend an hour more than girls each week watching television.

Computer time: About three-quarters of children have home access to computers and the Internet. Computer time at home averages about five hours a week for those ages 12-17. Children in families with home computers and Internet access spend much less time watching television—about seven hours a week less for teens ages 15-17. They also spend more time studying.

Sedentary vs. physical activity: Children and teens are spending almost two hours less a week on average on sports and outdoor activities, while they are spending more time on sedentary activities including television, home computers, reading and just doing nothing. "This shift to greater sedentary time may be a contributing factor to the rise in childhood obesity," Stafford says.

Age differences in time use: Comparing children in early grade school to junior and senior high schoolers, Stafford and colleagues found a progressive increase in time spent on computer activities, a steady reduction in time spent sleeping and a strong increase in time spent visiting, socializing and studying out of school.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. It is part of the larger Panel Study of Income Dynamics, funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and conducted by ISR since 1968.

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