- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2003

Stephen Pearson saw his children’s grades slip. His older daughter was falling asleep in school after staying up to the wee hours chatting with friends online.

Mr. Pearson quickly learned that despite the Internet’s reputation as a trove of knowledge, youngsters can easily squander their online time playing games, downloading music and messaging friends and strangers alike about parties, crushes and other school-age obsessions.

Mr. Pearson responded by clamping down on his children’s Internet usage, giving them an hour each on school nights.

His three children, Tanika, 15; Mickayla, 12, and Corey, 8, now spend an hour of their newfound time each night reading — off old-fashioned paper.

“I realize the computer is a reading environment also, but it’s a different type of reading,” said Mr. Pearson, of Waynesville, Mo. “Kids don’t have to use punctuation [or] spell correctly. They have their own language, code-set and code system while they are online.”

Since Mr. Pearson set time limits, Mickayla has spent more time playing basketball. She also sees real-world friends more often, going roller-skating and bowling with them.

Relatively few parents set time limits, but those who study children’s online usage say the numbers are growing.

“How many kids do you see on a nice day, instead of going to the playground; they are just going to the computer?” asked Kimberly Young, who runs the Center for Online Addiction in Bradford, Pa.

A study from the University of California at Los Angeles found 18 percent of U.S. parents surveyed last year thought their children spent too much time online, up from 11 percent in 2000.

“They are realizing it’s like television. You can fritter away your time,” said Jeff Cole, director of the UCLA Center for Communication Policy. “The Internet doesn’t always get a preferred position as it had two years ago when it was associated with homework and teaching.”

Hamish Rickett of Portland, Ore., noticed that his three boys “rip through homework and do not really spend the time they ought to, because they are in a hurry to get on the Internet.”

Rebecca Edgar of San Jose, Calif., said time online became a problem when her three teenage boys began squabbling over it. “I started monitoring it and found that they were spending five, six, seven hours online,” she said.

Nonetheless, many parents don’t consider Internet usage a problem or don’t want to be overly strict.

“It’s like saying to kids they can’t have sugar or chocolate or anything enticing to them,” said Carole Kealy, a free-lance writer in San Francisco. “They may want it more and sneak around to somebody else’s house.”

Her solution? Keeping her 14-year-old son, P.J., busy by enrolling him in sports, assigning extra reading and sending him to camp and summer school.

New software and hardware have come out over the past year or so to help parents enforce time limits. Ginny Meacham, a mother of six in Orem, Utah, uses Time-Scout Monitor to track their time online. Each child can “buy” about two hours a day by doing chores.

Her oldest son, 17-year-old Jon, used to continually complain that time limits fell in the middle of a video game, causing him to lose and turning her into “a mean, bad, icky, ogre parent.” Now there’s no arguing, because once the allocation is out, the program automatically shuts power to the computer’s monitor.

Other parents still use old-fashioned means — a kitchen timer, a watch or an estimate. Stacey Calhoun, a teacher in La Mirada, Calif., enforces her rules by taking the keyboard, mouse and microphone away when she leaves the house.

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