It is easy to be critical of kids today by suggesting they spend too much time on their devices.
We all are spending too much time in front of screens. But the truth is — and the evidence appears regularly on the sports pages of this newspaper — that higher percentages of youth today are involved in extracurricular activities, and sports specifically.
Whether it is ultimate frisbee or basketball or skiing, Vermont kids seem to be getting out there, competing and doing it well. No devices necessary.
According to a Census Bureau report out last month, children are just as involved in extracurricular activities today as they were about 15 years ago. When it comes to sports, they are actually even more engaged than they were in the last decade, the report shows.
Participation in extracurricular activities is widely viewed as a way to help children develop social skills and become active in their community. There has been growing concern that in the age of smartphones, tablets and other computer devices, children are spending more time on screens than on sports fields.
However, the U.S. Census report found:
— The percentage of children ages 6 to 17 who participated in sports increased between 1998 and 2014: 42 percent were involved in sports in 2014, compared to 36 percent in 1998.
— Participation in clubs declined during this time, from 35 percent to 28 percent.
— The share of children taking lessons outside of the regular school day fluctuated somewhat, but 29 percent of children were involved in lessons in 1998 and 30 percent were involved in 2014.
While these findings cannot speak directly to the amount of technology used by children, they do show that children continue to remain engaged in extracurricular activities.
The data comes from the 2014 Survey of Income and Program Participation, which collects detailed information about U.S. families’ economic well-being.
We should feel encouraged that that particular myth has been busted. This report uses a number of indicators to portray aspects of children’s well-being, primarily as it relates to involvement in school and extracurricular activities. The report also explores other aspects of children’s lives, such as parental engagement in reading, outings and shared dinners.
It’s the part of “family” and “engaging” we have lamented has gotten up and gone to its room.
The research shows that the way adolescents spend their time can strongly influence their health later in life. For youth to maintain a healthy future, they need plenty of sleep, good nutrition, regular exercise and time to form relationships with family, friends and caring adults. Additionally, the time adolescents spend in school and in after-school activities with peers and adults can advance healthy academic, emotional, social and physical development. Adolescents also are influenced by their exposure to media and their increasing use of social media.
In particular, high schoolers spend about the same amount of time in class, doing homework, eating and drinking and working. However, they do spend their time outside of these activities in different ways. The report found:
— On average, high school boys spend about one more hour per day on media and communications activities than girls on both weekdays (2.9 vs. 1.8 hours) and weekend days (4.8 vs. 3.8 hours). They also spend more time playing sports on both weekdays (0.9 vs. 0.5 hours) and weekend days (1.2 vs. 0.5 hours). On weekdays, high school boys get an hour more of sleep than girls (9.2 vs. 8.2 hours, on average).
— On an average weekday, high school girls spend more time than boys on both leisure activities (1.7 vs. 1.1 hours) and religious activities (0.1 vs. 0.0 hours). High school girls also spend more time on grooming on both weekdays and weekend days (1.1 vs. 0.7 hours, on average for both weekdays and weekend days).
It’s true, adolescents spend a substantial amount of time on media and communications activities, including watching TV, playing video and computer games, surfing the internet, listening to or playing music, and using cell phones to call or text friends and others — many of these at the same time.
High school teens spend a substantial amount of time in leisure activities, such as socializing, pursuing hobbies, reading and writing, and attending arts or sports events.
The report states, on an average weekday, high school students spend 0.8 hours just socializing or at social events. High school girls spend 0.4 hours attending arts or sports events, and 0.2 hours just relaxing and thinking (compared to 0.1 hours, each, among boys). On an average weekend day, high school students spend 1.2 hours socializing and at social events. Girls spend 0.3 hours relaxing and thinking (compared with 0.1 hours among boys) and 0.2 hours attending arts or sports events (compared with 0.4 hours among boys).
The key to the engagement part, of course, is to engage. So when family comes together this week to celebrate the start of the holiday season, ask a young person what they’ve been up to. You might be surprised by the answer.