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Kids Who Spend More Time on Computers Don't Suffer Academically, Study Says

kid on computerIt looks like the kids are alright, after all. A new study from the University of Maryland shows that more time spent in front of a computer doesn't hurt a child's academic performance, and, in some cases, actually improves test scores. Led by family science professor Sandra L. Hofferth, the six-year study followed a group of 1,000 children, who were between the ages of six and 12 in 1997, and continued through 2003. As the students spent more time on computers, their test scores didn't suffer significantly, even if they spent most of their time playing games on their PCs.

The results, published in the academic journal Child Development, show that African-American boys' reading scores improved by four points as they increased their computer time, while girls' math and reading scores both increased by a point. The only group to experience a decline in academic achievement, however, were white male adolescents, who displayed a small, but statistically significant decline -- a trend that Hofferth attributes to too much time spent aimlessly surfing the Web. "Too much just random surfing isn't necessarily good," Hofferth told the Washington Post. "However, playing games and studying are more focused, and they have a positive effect."

Conventional wisdom, of course, has always held that computer games only take up time that kids could otherwise devote to studying, playing sports, or developing their social skills. While Hofferth acknowledges that subjects who spent significant time playing video games spent less time studying, she notes, "The reduction wasn't associated with a decline in achievement, and that was a surprise." Distracting as these games may be, she argues, "[Computer use] involves problem-solving. It involves reading; it involves communication, and these are skills that help children."

Encouraging as these results may be, it's unlikely that many parents will begin telling their kids to spend more time in front of their computers and less time in front of their books or playing outside. A perhaps more crucial caveat, moreover, is that Hofferth's study predates the rise of Facebook and other social networking sites, which certainly occupy a significant percentage of kids' computer time nowadays. Still, Hofferth's work may inspire some educators and parents to embrace computer downtime as a form of educational support, instead of reflexively dismissing it as a classroom hindrance.

Tags: academic, computer, ComputerGames, education, educational, kids, school, students, study, test, VideoGames