TV and Internet Convergence

As the internet becomes more ingrained in our lives, it's become a tool for parenting. And a break from it.

As the internet becomes more ingrained in our lives, it’s become a tool for parenting.   Barbara Ortutay for AP:

No TV for a week, the time-honored punishment for misbehaving children, has been enhanced. Now, parents are also withholding Internet access to punish their kids, further sign that the Web has become as important to families as television.

As the two mediums converge, parents are quickly coming to see TV and the Internet in similar ways and are seeking to limit their kids’ access to both, according to a report out this week from researchers at the University of Southern California.

The survey from the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future found that two-thirds of parents say they restrict their kids’ access to TV as punishment, a number that has barely budged over the past 10 years. But the percentage of parents who limit Internet access as a form of punishment has nearly doubled in the last decade.

Among parents surveyed this spring, 57 percent said they withheld Web access to punish their kids. That is up from 32 percent in 2000.

The combination of the explosion of available channels (thus providing programming to micro-niche audiences) and digital video recording (thus allowing watching whatever you want, whenever you want has made television much more like the Internet.   And the explosion of online video, including content from most of the television networks, is making the Internet more like television.  The convergence will soon be complete as technologies like Slingbox, Hulu, and various on demand services become more efficient, widespread, and inexpensive.

My kid isn’t at the age yet where punishment is an issue, but I can certainly see withholding technology access as a primary tool.  The problem with Internet, as opposed to television, is that there are more non-entertainment uses for the former.  Presumably, parents are allowing their kids to use the ‘net for their homework and simply monitoring so that they’re not playing games or social networking.

Speaking of which:

Michael Gilbert, a senior fellow at the center, said parents are starting to not see a big distinction between TV watching and Internet use. Even so, parents are still more comfortable with the amount of time kids spend on the Internet — 71 percent said it was “just about right” compared with just 51 percent for TV.

Earlier surveys by the center have shown that families are spending less time together than they used to, a decline that has coincided with the explosive growth of social networks in the past few years.  Now, parents are saying Internet access at home is also reducing the time their children spend with their friends face-to-face. Gilbert called this a worrisome trend, though noted that the number of parents to report this is still small — 11 percent in 2010 compared with 7 percent in 2000.

Sheer laziness and the seductive power of technology are part of this.  But I wonder how much of this is a function of the growing trend in recent years towards sheltering kids from the world?  When I was growing up, it was normal for kids to be let loose for hours on end to go play with their friends.   In a world of play dates and hyper-organized youth activity, though, parents are likely thankful their kids are on Facebook rather than being chauffeured somewhere.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. john personna says:

    Convergence has great potential, but it’s frustrating to see it play out as a lumbering fight between elephants. It matters less what I want than what Google or Apple will negotiate with the BBC.

  2. Add losing access to one’s cell phone as another means of punishment.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Yup. Although so many parents now view the mobile phone as a digital leash necessary for “safety.” I don’t know humanity survived so long with kids sometimes outside adult supervision for hours at a time.

  4. Ben says:

    You know, I’m only just north of 30. I am already amazed by the freedom of my youth. During summers, I would leave my house at 8am on my bike, with just the vaguest notion of where I was going, and would be back for suppertime. I often biked (without a helmet, even) all around my home city (a decent-sized one of about 60,000 people) with my friends, often through not-so-nice neighborhoods. My parents saw absolutely nothing wrong with this, and I somehow made it through childhood without being abducted, killed, raped or arrested. I know that violent crime rates have actually gone DOWN since my childhood. So it really makes me wonder why the hell parents have become so damn petrified in the intervening 20 years. I tend to blame the news with its constant fear-mongering and “special reports”.

  5. Trumwill says:

    I thought I was totally on top of things with my future policies towards my future children, then a friend of mine commented: “You’re forgetting something. They’ll be able to watch TV on their phone.”

    Oh CRAP!

    Yeah, if they’re being punished for misbehavior, you simply take the phone away, too, but my notions of limiting overall TV/Internet time are likely… optimistic.

  6. Trumwill says:

    Likewise, those people who are smugly saying that there won’t even BE a television in their house are likely in for a rude awakening when it comes to the overall relevance of that decision.