Recreation and the Use of Free Time
RECREATION AND THE USE OF FREE TIME
HISTORICAL CHANGES AND WORKING MOTHERS
Prior to the early twentieth century, when the economy was primarily agricultural, most American families needed their children to work on the farm during their after-school hours and on weekends. When children finished high school—and most left before they graduated (in school year 1899–1900 only 6.4% of seventeen-year-olds graduated high school)—both male and female youth were expected to contribute their full-time labor to the family economy. All activities, including schooling, occupied less time in young people's lives than the very important contribution they made to the economic welfare of the family. At that time, there was no "adolescence" as we know it, no time of relative leisure between childhood and adulthood.
The concept of adolescence as a transitional period between childhood and adulthood, in which young people were still semi-dependent upon parents, began to emerge in the late nineteenth century. By 1904 psychologist G. Stanley Hall began to argue that adolescence was a universal developmental stage—an essential, stormy, stressful period in the sexual maturation process. Since the concept of adolescence came to be culturally accepted, most youths have not been expected to contribute significantly to the economic welfare of the family. Although many teens in the twenty-first century hold part-time or even full-time jobs, greater importance is attached to their education as more young people attend and complete high school and college. The transition into adulthood therefore lasts longer than it did two or three generations ago.
Because of this significant cultural change, most children and adolescents in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century had considerably more discretionary time to themselves than those in pre-1940s America. This trend began to shift somewhat at the close of the twentieth century. A study by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research (ISR) (Changes in American Children's Time, 1981–97, September 2000) found that free time left after schooling, eating, and sleeping had decreased 12%, from 56.5 hours per week in 1981 to forty-nine hours in 1997. Researchers found that more time was spent at school, up by an average of more than ninety minutes per week. This increased time at school was not due to longer school days, but because more children were in preschool and before- and after-school programs because more mothers were working outside of the home.
According to the authors of the study, more women entering the paid labor force affected not only the amount of free time children had, but also how they spent that time. Because children spent more time away from their parents in structured environments such as sports practice and educational activities like doing homework, they spent less time in unstructured activities such as playing.
Although more women were in the workforce, children actually spent more time with their mothers in 1997 than in 1981 (John F. Sandberg and Sandra L. Hofferth, Changes in Children's Time with Parents, U.S. 1981–1997, May 2001). In 1997 children ages three to twelve spent 4.3 more hours per day with their mothers (a total of nearly 28.6 hours a week) than they did in 1981 (24.3 hours). Children also spent nearly three more hours per day with their fathers in 1997 (18.6 hours a week) than they did in 1981 (15.6 hours). The children were either engaged in activities with their parents (including housework), or the parents were simply accessible to their children during these hours.
Table 9.1 shows the percentage of children who interacted in various ways with a parent in 2000. The amount of interaction decreased as a child aged and went to school, and also tended to be less if the child was living with an unmarried parent. The majority of children under six years old (53%) ate breakfast with a parent every day of the week, three-quarters (76.4%) ate dinner with a parent every day of the week, and almost three-quarters were played with by a parent just for fun three or more times per
|Indicators of daily interaction of children under 18 with designated parent, by marital status of designated parent, 2000|
|(Numbers in thousands)|
|Children under 6 years old||Children 6 to 17 years old|
|Living with married parents2||Living with unmarried parent(s)3||Living with married parents2||Living with unmarried parent(s)3|
|Interaction with||Interaction with||Interaction with||Interaction with|
|Characteristic||Total1||Designated parent||Father/stepfather4||Designated parent||Father4||Total1||Designated parent||Father/stepfather4||Designated parent||Father4|
|1Totals given refer to questions of designated parents, regardless of sex of parent.|
|2Married includes married, spouse present and married, spouse absent (excluding separated).|
|3Includes never married, widowed, divorced, and separated.|
|4Question asked of fathers who were not the designated parents. Fathers must be biological, step- or adoptive and must be present in the household. Percent of children eating meals with fathers does not represent presence of both parents at the meals.|
|source: Terry A. Lugaila, "Table 2. Selected Indicators of Daily Interaction of Children under 18 with Designated Parent or with Father/Stepfather if Present by Marital Status of Designated Parent: 2000," in A Child's Day: 2000 (Selected Indicators of Child Well-Being), Current Population Reports, P70–89, U.S. Census Bureau, August 2003, http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/p70-89.pdf (accessed September 16, 2004)|
|Number of children||23,385||17,240||16,649||6,145||835||48,278||34,645||33,114||13,633||636|
|Parent ate breakfast with child in typical week|
|1 to 2 days||16.5||15.6||33.1||19.1||25.4||28.7||27.3||33.1||32.3||32.2|
|3 to 6 days||16.3||16.7||16.5||15.3||8.8||21.5||22.1||17.3||19.9||12.8|
|Parent ate dinner with child in typical week|
|1 to 2 days||3.3||2.8||8.5||4.6||7.0||5.4||4.9||8.9||6.8||8.2|
|3 to 6 days||15.1||14.6||24.4||16.4||11.3||26.8||27.0||32.1||26.5||17.7|
|Child praised by parent|
|Never—once a week||1.8||1.5||2.5||2.6||5.8||5.2||4.6||6.9||6.8||11.8|
|A few times per week||7.6||6.1||9.7||12.1||17.0||22.7||21.4||26.5||26.0||24.2|
|Once or twice per day||20.3||19.3||24.8||23.1||23.0||31.3||31.3||30.6||31.2||36.2|
|Three or more times per day||70.3||73.2||63.0||62.3||54.2||40.9||42.7||36.0||36.1||27.9|
|Child talked to or played with for 5 minutes or more just for fun|
|Never—once a week||1.0||0.4||1.7||2.6||5.8||5.7||4.9||6.8||7.9||8.5|
|A few times per week||6.5||5.3||10.6||9.7||17.5||19.6||18.7||24.2||22.1||28.6|
|Once or twice per day||21.1||19.3||27.7||26.2||22.3||33.4||33.0||33.8||34.7||35.0|
|Three or more times per day||71.4||75.0||60.0||61.5||54.4||41.2||43.4||35.2||35.4||27.9|
day (71.4%) and were praised by a parent three or more times per day (70.3%). In contrast, only 29.3% of school-age children ate breakfast with a parent every day, 64.5% ate dinner with a parent every day, and less than half were played with by a parent three or more times per day (41.2%) or praised by a parent three or more times per day (40.9%). If a child lived with an unmarried parent, these kinds of daily parental interaction was less likely to occur.
TELEVISION-WATCHING HABITS OF YOUNG PEOPLE
According to the ISR report Changes in Children's Time with Parents, collecting data about the activities children engage in is complicated because observation is the best way but it is expensive, time-consuming, and intrusive. Before 1997 there was only one study, the Time Use Longitudinal Panel Study, 1975–81, that contained nationally representative data on U.S. children's use of time. The 1997 Child Development Supplement to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics had parents maintain twenty-four-hour time diaries; researchers used these diaries to make comparisons between children's time use in 1981 and 1997.
The ISR report Changes in American Children's Time revealed that in 1997 children ages three to twelve spent 27% of their weekly time watching television, down from 30% in 1981. Television watching as a primary activity also declined by 23% during the period. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in National Youth Risk Behavior Survey: 1991–2003, Trends in the Prevalence of Physical Activity, reported that in 1999 42.8% of high schoolers watched three or more hours of television on an average school day; that percentage had declined to 38.2% in 2003. (See Table 9.2.)
While in general the amount of time children spent watching television declined in the 1980s and 1990s, television
|Television watching among high school students, by demographic characteristics, 2003|
|Watched ≥3 hours/day of TV|
|*For example, push-ups, sit-ups, or weightlifting on 3 of the 7 days preceding the survey to strengthen or tone their muscles.|
|†Run by their school or community groups during the 12 months preceding the survey.|
|§On an average school day.|
|source: Adapted From "Table 56. Percentage of High School Students Who Did Strengthening Exercises, Played on One or More Sports Teams, and Who Watched Three or More Hours/Day of Television, by Sex, Race/Ethnicity, and Grade," in "Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2003," Surveillance Summaries, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 53, no. SS-02, May 21, 2004, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/SS/SS5302.pdf (accessed September 16, 2004)|
watching varied significantly by age and race. Between 1982 and 1999 the percentage of nine-year-olds who watched at least six hours of television daily decreased from 26% to 19%. The percentage of thirteen-year-olds watching six or more hours of television daily fell from 16% to 12%. However, a greater proportion of seventeen-year-olds (7%) watched six or more hours of television daily in 1999 than in 1982 (6%). In all three age groups African-American children were more likely than white and Hispanic children to watch six or more hours of television each day. (See Figure 9.1.)
In A Child's Day: 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P70–89, 2003), Terry A. Lugila outlined the three kinds of television rules a family might use to limit children's television watching: limits on the type of program children watched, rules governing how early or how late the television could be on, and limits on the number of hours children watched television. In 2000 85% of children older than three years lived in households where at least one rule limited their television watching: 89.9% of preschoolers, 92% of children age six to eleven, and 72.6% of children ages twelve to seventeen. (See Table 9.3.) Well over half of children ages three to five (64.4%) and children ages six to eleven (69%) lived in households with all three types of television rules; that percentage dropped to 41.7% of children ages twelve to seventeen.
The percentage of children living in families with television rules also varied by race/ethnicity and by the educational level of parents. Non-Hispanic white children were more likely to have television rules than African-American, Asian, or Hispanic children of any age. (See Table 9.3.) Parents were also more likely to impose television rules as their educational level went up.
The presence or absence of television rules was also correlated with the amount of times per week family members read to young children. In families where there were no television rules, 17.1% of three- to five-year-olds were not read to at all. (See Figure 9.2.) In contrast, in families with one or two television rules only 7.5% of three- to five-year-olds were not read to at all, and in families with all three types of rules, only 5.9% of preschoolers were not read to at all. The percentage of children who were read to seven or more times per week also went up in families with more television rules.
YOUNG PEOPLE AT PLAY
The CDC reported in December 2000 on two different surveys measuring how eleven- to eighteen-year-olds like to spend their free time (Exploring How to Motivate Behavior Change among Teens in America, 2000, http://www.cdc.gov/youthcampaign/research/PDF/4.4.04-ReLitSupportDvpRes.pdf). The respondents differed markedly by gender. Girls favored going to the movies: almost two-thirds of girls (62%) and only one-third of boys (31%) listed movies as their favorite leisure activity. Boys, on the other hand, preferred playing video games (33% of boys compared with 7% of girls) and sports (23% of boys compared with 6% of girls). Both boys and girls enjoyed reading and would do more of it if they felt they had the time.
A 1998 Roper youth poll asked youngsters ages six to seventeen what they liked to do in their spare time. Three of five (60%) of the respondents chose hanging out and playing with friends as their favorite way to spend free time. More than half (53%) favored playing sports and participating in outdoor activities. This active play was the first choice of eight- to seventeen-year-old boys and ranked second for boys six to seven years of age and girls ages eight to twelve. The third most popular free-time activities for young people were the ones they did in their rooms, including solitary pursuits such as watching videos or playing video games and social activities such as talking on the phone. More girls (44%) than boys (30%) identified these activities as favorites.
Young children liked games of make-believe. One-third of six- to seven-year-olds (31% of boys and 37% of girls) liked to don costumes and pretend to be superheroes and heroines. Although all children like make-believe games, even at young ages, favorite play activities often varied by gender. Young boys six to seven years of age (44%) were twice as likely as girls the same age (22%) to
|Family television rules for children 3–17 years old, by selected characteristics, 1994–2000|
|(Numbers in thousands)|
|Family television rules|
|Number of children||Percent with at least one television rule||Percent with three types of television rules|
|Characteristics||3 to 5 years||6 to 11 years||12 to 17 years||3 to 5 years||6 to 11 years||12 to 17 years||3 to 5 years||6 to 11 years||12 to 17 years|
|1Married includes married, spouse present and married, spouse absent (excluding separated).|
|2For families with income reported.|
|3Based on those children for whom valid answers were reported (no allocation for nonresponse).|
|source: Terry A. Lugaila, "Table 5. Family Television Rules for Children 3 to 17 Years Old by Selected Characteristics: 1994 to 2000," in A Child's Day: 2000 (Selected Indicators of Child Well-Being), Current Population Reports, P70–89, U.S. Census Bureau, August 2003, http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/p70-89.pdf (accessed September 16, 2004)|
|Total children, 2000||11,780||24,581||23,697||89.9||92.0||72.6||64.4||69.0||41.7|
|Sex of child|
|Race and ethnicity of child|
|Asian and Pacific Islander||391||846||834||86.2||88.9||70.2||61.3||69.8||44.8|
|Hispanic (of any race)||1,928||4,520||3,683||83.7||89.1||69.6||64.2||70.3||44.3|
|Marital status of parent|
|Separated, divorced, widowed||1,233||4,047||5,431||89.9||90.9||65.3||63.2||68.1||34.5|
|Parent's educational level|
|High school or less||5,393||11,990||11,665||86.2||89.6||70.2||60.5||66.8||40.0|
|Vocational or associate degree||1,399||3,236||3,420||92.2||92.7||75.6||63.0||68.0||41.5|
|Below poverty level||2,006||4,379||3,476||84.5||87.4||71.9||59.8||66.0||44.4|
|On or above poverty level||9,520||19,663||19,861||90.6||93.0||72.7||65.1||69.5||41.3|
|100 to 199 percent of poverty||2,968||5,956||5,353||88.0||89.4||71.3||64.7||68.0||41.5|
|200 percent of poverty or higher||6,552||13,707||14,508||91.7||94.6||73.2||65.3||70.1||41.2|
|Total children, 1998||12,088||24,095||23,345||89.4||93.3||75.3||61.6||65.2||41.0|
|Total children, 19943||9,576||19,472||17,683||91.3||94.7||79.2||54.0||60.3||40.2|
construct objects with Lego blocks or to make models. Among eight- to twelve-year-olds, girls were more interested than boys in arts (music, crafts, dance, and theater), fashion, and cooking. Boys at this age were more interested in watching and playing sports and in war and military history. Both girls' and boys' levels of interest in music and fashion rose when they became teenagers, but girls' interest was higher at all ages.
The ISR report Changes in American Children's Time found that the proportion of discretionary time three- to twelve-year-olds spent on different activities each week has changed significantly since 1981. Changes in children's use of free time varied by age group. For three- to five-year olds, significant increases were reported in the percentage of discretionary time spent in sports participation (up 173%), reading (up 190%), outdoor activities (up 185%), and art activities (up 157%). Significant decreases were reported for this age group in the amount of discretionary time spent playing (down 33%), attending church (down 58%), and participating in youth groups (down 57%).
For six- to eight-year-olds, there were significant increases in the amount of discretionary time spent shopping (up 168%), studying (up 146%), participating in art activities (up 114%), and pursuing hobbies (up 33%). Significant decreases occurred in discretionary time spent watching television (down 19%), playing (down 25%), playing sports (down 13%), doing chores (down 25%), visiting (down 24%), attending church (down 22%), and talking with family members (down 55%).
For nine- to twelve-year-olds, there were significant increases in the amount of discretionary time spent on arts activities (up 145%), pursuing hobbies (up 133%), playing sports (up 35%), shopping (up 23%), playing (up 20%), and reading (up 17%). Significant decreases occurred in the amount of discretionary time spent watching television (down 32%), doing chores (down 30%), visiting (down 30%), attending church services (down 44%), talking with family members (down 49%), participating in outdoor activities (down 22%), and participating in youth groups (down 13%).
Younger Children's Favorite Sports
According to the National Sporting Goods Association, about 19.9 million children ages seven to eleven participated in sports activities in 2003. Some of the most popular sports among children in this age group were bicycle riding (8.5 million), in-line skating (5.9 million), basketball (6.3 million), soccer (4.7 million), and fishing (3.7 million). Participation of seven- to eleven-year-olds in many of even the most popular sports went down between 1993 and 2003, including bicycle riding (down 24.3%), fishing (down 26.8%), and playing baseball (down 16.7%). Participation of seven- to eleven-year-olds in other sports went way up in that period, including skateboarding (up 60.6%), skiing (up 71.7%), and snowboarding (up 295.2%).
Teens' Favorite Sports
In the 2002–03 school year, approximately four million boys and 2.9 million girls participated in high school athletic programs, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. The most popular sports among boys in terms of number of participants were football, basketball, track and field, baseball, and soccer. Girls' top sports in terms of number of participants were basketball, track and field, volleyball, softball (fast pitch), and soccer. The 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 51% of high school girls and 64% of high school boys played on at least one sports team.
The National Sporting Goods Association reported that 24.7 million children twelve through seventeen participated in sports activities in 2003. Some of the most favored activities among adolescents in this age group were basketball (7.9 million), bicycle riding (6.5 million), in-line skating (3.7 million), fishing (4.1 million), and baseball (4.1 million). Sports that saw substantial gains in participation of twelve- to seventeen-year-olds from 1993 to 2003 included golf (up 35.9%), skateboarding (up 69.1%), and snowboarding (up 184.6%).
TEENAGERS, LEISURE TIME, AND VOLUNTEERISM
While the free time activities of young children can be in large part determined by their parents' schedules, teenagers tend to have more genuinely free time. What do they do with it? Teenagers fill their leisure hours with a variety of activities, some of which are not always agreeable to adults. Some parents claim teens watch too much television; most experts believe teens do not get enough physical exercise; teachers complain their students spend too little time on schoolwork or reading. This unfavorable picture, however, is not entirely accurate.
Many young people spend a substantial amount of time in a wide variety of volunteer and community service activities, ranging from cooking holiday dinners for homeless people or visiting nursing homes to serving as mentors for children or volunteering at the local animal shelter. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in its Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2003, in 1999, the most recent data available, slightly more than fourteen million youngsters (52%) in grades six through twelve performed community service, up from 12.6 million (49%) in 1996. (See Table 9.4.) About 48% of students in grades six through eight, 50% of students in grades nine and ten, and 61% of students in grades eleven and twelve performed community service in 1999. Female students (57%) were more likely than male students (48%) to be engaged in community service. White students (56%) were more likely than African-American (48%) or Hispanic (38%) students to volunteer. The higher the students' parents' level of education, the more likely the student was to participate in community service activities.
During his first term President George W. Bush placed an emphasis on volunteerism. In his 2002 State of the Union address he called on Americans of all ages to pledge at least two years during their lives, or four thousand hours, to volunteer work. Toward this effort, the White House launched the Freedom Corps on January 30, 2002, to foster a culture of service, citizenship, and responsibility. In 2002 more than 130,000 schools received copies of the Students in Service to America guidebook. Programs for youth volunteerism described in the USA Freedom Corps 2003 Annual Report (January 2004) included Learn and Serve America, designed to provide grants to educational programs linking classroom instruction with community service. In 2003 more than one million students volunteered in community service projects.
The extracurricular activities engaged in by children and teens vary by age and gender. Adolescents are more likely than younger children to participate in sports (37.2% of twelve- to seventeen-year-olds compared with 30.6% of six- to eleven-year-olds). (See Table 9.5.) Both adolescents and younger children were equally likely to participate in clubs (34.4% and 33.8%, respectively). Younger children (32%) were more likely to take lessons (music, dance, language, computers, and religion, for
|Community service participation of students in grades 6–12, 1996 and 1999|
|(12,627 represents 12,627,000)|
|Students participating in community service (1,000)||Percent of students participating in community service|
|*Includes students with no grade reported.|
|source: Adapted from "No. 586. Community Service Participation of Students in Grades 6 through 12: 1996 and 1999," in Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2003, U.S. Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/03statab/socinsur.pdf (accessed September 16, 2004)|
|Grades 6 through 8||5,462||5,573||47||48|
|Grades 9 and 10||3,370||3,984||45||50|
|Grades 11 and 12||3,795||4,448||56||61|
|Parent's highest level of education:|
|Less than high school||834||935||34||37|
|High school graduate or equivalent||3,273||3,298||42||46|
|Voc/tech education after high school or some college||3,617||4,000||48||50|
|Graduate or professional school||2,653||3,129||64||64|
example) than were older children (26.2%). Boys of both age groups were more likely to participate in sports than were girls; girls were more likely to join clubs and take lessons. White children, children with parents who were highly educated, and children whose family incomes were above the poverty line were all more likely than other children to take part in extracurricular activities.
Teens' Favorite Leisure Activities
Teens engage in a wide variety of leisure activities. Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU), a marketing research firm based in Northbrook, Illinois, polled more than two thousand teens in 2000 to find out what motivated them. The number-one answer, given by 50% of respondents, was, "We're about fun." The 2000 TRU Teenage Marketing and Lifestyle Study listed leisure activities to determine how many teens participated and how many hours a week the teens spent participating in each activity. The number-one leisure activity was watching TV, with 98% of respondents indicating they participated, spending an average of 11.2 hours a week watching. Other leisure activities chosen by at least three-quarters of respondents were:
|Extracurricular activities of school-age children, by selected characteristics, 1994–2000|
|(Numbers in thousands)|
|Percent participating in specified extracurricular activity|
|Number of children||Sports||Clubs||Lessons|
|Characteristic||6 to 11 years||12 to 17 years||6 to 11 years||12 to 17 years||6 to 11 years||12 to 17 years||6 to 11 years||12 to 17 years|
|1Married includes married, spouse present and married, spouse absent (excluding separated).|
|2For families with incomes reported.|
|3Number of children varied by activity depending on those reporting valid answers and were approximately 19.4 million 6- to 11-year-olds and 17.6 million.|
|source: Terry A. Lugaila, "Table 6. Extracurricular Activities of School Age Children by Selected Characteristics: 1994 to 2000," in A Child's Day: 2000 (Selected Indicators of Child Well-Being), Current Population Reports, P70–89, U.S. Census Bureau, August 2003, http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/p70-89.pdf (accessed September 16, 2004)|
|Total children, 2000||24,581||23,697||30.6||37.2||33.8||34.4||32.0||26.2|
|Sex of child|
|Race and ethnicity of child|
|Asian and Pacific Islander||846||834||20.4||25.7||27.1||31.5||36.0||33.1|
|Hispanic (of any race)||4,520||3,683||21.5||28.0||20.2||22.9||20.7||20.3|
|Marital status of parent|
|Separated, divorced, widowed||4,047||5,431||25.1||30.3||26.7||27.7||22.5||19.8|
|Parent's educational level|
|High school or less||11,990||11,665||23.5||29.6||24.9||26.2||21.5||19.6|
|Vocational or associate degree||3,236||3,420||35.1||39.8||40.9||39.6||37.6||29.1|
|Below poverty level||4,379||3,476||15.9||24.9||22.8||23.2||18.6||17.9|
|On or above poverty level||19,663||19,861||34.3||39.6||36.6||36.6||35.3||27.9|
|100 to 199 percent of poverty||5,956||5,353||24.1||30.7||27.2||29.5||23.7||20.8|
|200 percent of poverty or higher||13,707||14,508||38.7||42.9||40.7||39.2||40.3||30.5|
|Total children, 1998||24,095||23,345||31.7||39.4||34.4||35.3||30.8||26.9|
|Total children, 19943||19,426||17,665||34.3||42.2||38.8||42.5||23.7||19.1|
- Listening to FM radio (10.1 hours/week)
- Listening to CDs or tapes (9.5 hours/week)
- Hanging out with friends (8.6 hours/week)
- Talking on the phone (local calls) (6.2 hours/week)
- Exercising/working out (5.1 hours/week)
- Doing chores/running errands (4.3 hours/week)
- Reading magazines for pleasure (2.8 hours/week)
- Reading newspapers (2.5 hours/week)
READING AND WRITING
According to "Survey Finds Teens Enjoy Reading, Lack Time" (Teacher Librarian,, vol. 27, April 2000), teenagers enjoyed reading for pleasure and would read more if they had more time. Among teenagers' favorite books were those by horror writer Stephen King, the Harry Potter series, and some classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye. Many teens reported reading magazines (66%), newspapers (59%), and even the backs of cereal boxes (48%) for fun. More girls than boys showed enthusiasm for reading (50% and 31%, respectively).
In The Condition of Education, 1999, the U.S. Department of Education reported on the percentage of students who read at home in 1996 and what types of materials they read. Subsequent editions of this publication up to 2005 had not reported on reading. Reading stories and novels was popular with all age groups surveyed in 1996. About 42.6% of nine-year-olds, 38% of thirteen-year-olds, and 27.1% of seventeen-year-olds read stories and novels on their own time. Magazines were also popular reading, enjoyed by 17% of nine-year-olds, 39.5% of thirteen-year-olds, and 41% of seventeen-year-olds. (High school students read more magazines at home than stories and novels.) Newspapers ranked number three, with 5.2% of nine-year-olds reading them at home, 8.4% of thirteen-year olds, and 21.3% of seventeen-year-olds.
Computer usage is an extremely popular pastime for children. According to A Nation Online: How Americans
Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2002), in 2001 children and teenagers used computers and the Internet more than any other age group. Almost nine out of ten (89.5%) children between five and seventeen (forty-eight million children) used computers. Three-quarters (75.6%) of fourteen- to seventeen-yearolds and 65.4% of ten- to thirteen-year-olds used the Internet. Even very young children were using computers and accessing the Internet. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of three- to eight-year-olds used computers, and 27.9% of them used the Internet.
The availability of computers at schools has narrowed the gap in computer usage rates between low- and high-income families. (See Figure 9.3.) In the 2002–03 school year 113,637 schools had computers, with an average of one computer for every four students (Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2003). In fall 2002 99% of public schools in the United States had access to the Internet, up from 35% in fall 1994 (Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994–2002, National Center for Education Statistics, 2003).
School characteristics affect students' access to computers, according to Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994–2002. Although school characteristics do not affect schools' Internet access, they do affect access to the Internet within instructional rooms. A lower percentage of schools in urban areas where poverty tends to be concentrated had instructional room Internet access (88%) than schools located in towns (96%) and rural areas (93%).
Children and young adults use computers and the Internet for a variety of activities. As children get older, they use the Internet for more and more activities, and the Internet has become integrated into their daily routines. Children of all ages use the Internet for schoolwork, to send e-mail, to play games, to listen to the radio or watch movies, or to talk to others in chat rooms. The percentage of children engaging in each of these activities increases with age, with the exceptions of playing games—which peaks in the ten- to thirteen-year-old age group—and using chatrooms, which peaks in the fourteen- to seventeen-year old group. (See Figure 9.4.)