For anyone who has ever watched a crowd of teenagers gathered around a video screen, clutching Xbox controllers or playing “Guitar Hero,” the news may come as no surprise.
Some 26 percent of New Jersey’s high school students spend at least three hours surfing the Internet or playing video games on an average school day, according to a survey conducted by the state Department of Education.
Combine that with TV-watching time, and the study shows that more than 57 percent of high schoolers devoted three or more hours, on the average school day, to electronic viewing. Among those students, about half said they spent five or more hours per day watching TV, being on the Internet or playing video games.
“As a parent of three teenagers, I’m not surprised,” said Barbara Walter, president of the North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School District school board. “The kids Tivo movies they want to watch, they hang out and have ‘Rock Band’ parties. I think that’s probably accurate.”
Part of the state Department of Education’s biannual 2007 Student Health Survey, the report marks the first time, since the surveys began 16 years ago, that students were asked about their Internet and video game use. The results were released last week.
The survey, which also included questions about things such as alcohol, drug and cigarette use; physical activity; and even whether students have ever purposefully cut themselves; was completed in the spring of 2007 by 1,677 students at 29 randomly-selected public high schools.
School officials had to agree to participate; student participation was voluntary, anonymous and required parental consent.
Today’s teenagers have grown up in an increasingly electronic world. They watched “Barney” videos as preschoolers; used Playstation or Gameboys on play dates with their elementary school friends; and now download their music from the Internet, communicate through cell phones and socialize through Facebook.
About 93 percent of U.S. teens use the Internet and 97 percent play video or computer gaming systems, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Even school officials say the state Education Department’s findings are not startling.
“I think we knew that, and it’s good to have it in a report, so we can know exactly what’s out there,” said Anthony Cavanna, superintendent of the West Orange School District, who called the survey “the opportunity to think about some of the things we need to be focusing on.
“Our students are digital and a lot of us are still analog,” he said. “I think one of the things I’d like to do is help teachers and parents develop more strategies to incorporate learning strategies through using things like the Internet and TV.”
One way to incorporate more technology into the classroom could be to let students use cell phones to text-message the answers to “do now” exercises, which are a quick assignment they may be given in an English or social studies lesson.
In New York City schools, for example, he said some teachers have formed professional learning communities to incorporate using technologies.
The report also asked about students’ Internet safety practices, something most schools have worked to stress. The findings there caused some concern for educators.
Some 21 percent of students said they had been asked during the previous year to meet, in person, someone they knew only through the Internet, the survey found.
Also, 27 percent of students had, at some point in their life, met one or more people, in person, whom they had met only through the Internet.
“We have done things in the schools, and continue to focus on, parent awareness of how to supervise their child’s Internet use,” Cavanna said. “We continue to work with students to make sure they understand how to be safe on the Internet.”
The survey was done in collaboration with the state departments of Health and Senior Services, and Law and Public Safety. It was administered by the Bloustein Center for Survey Research at Rutgers University.
“Capturing an honest account of teen behavior is important for the overall health and educational well-being of New Jersey’s young people,” said Education Commissioner Lucille E. Davy. “It is important for parents and educators to understand the habits of our youth and the pressures they face every day, so we can help them make healthy life choices.”
The state Department of Education gives all high schools a summary brochure about the survey; it also uses the survey results when developing policies and programs to address adolescent behavior.
The summary report, detailed report and data tables may be found on the Department of Education’s NJ Student Health Survey Web page at http://www.nj.gov/education/students/yrbs/.