Time Perceptions and Time Allocation Preferences among Adolescent Boys and Girls

By Bruno, James E. | Adolescence, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview

Time Perceptions and Time Allocation Preferences among Adolescent Boys and Girls


Bruno, James E., Adolescence


INTRODUCTION

The opposable thumb has long been suggested as being a fundamental characteristic that has served as a catalyst in the evolution of humans. The ability to manipulate objects, along with the development of the brain, distinguished human beings from other animals. There could, however, be another more psychologically oriented type of distinguishing factor that separates humans from other animals - the ability of humans to allocate time toward achieving various objectives. Animals can allocate time only in an other-directed (social) manner, especially to ensure their survival and the survival of their species. Humans have added at least three other types of time allocation possibilities. In addition to "giving," or other-directed time to develop relationships to other animals or other humans, they can also allocate time to become the "best" in economic competition. This type of competitive, market-driven, or outer-directed time, has the objective of acquiring the trophies of the marketplace (e.g., the business person sells time in return for material rewards). Time can also be allocated to develop personal talents and interests. This type of inner-directed time might have the objective of personal development, spiritual enlightenment, or creative expression. Finally, especially in post-industrial societies, humans can choose not to give, sell, or spend time and simply do nothing - a nondirected use of time. This type of "filling," "killing," "passing," of time has the objective of using time to be entertained.

In short, the ability of humans to manipulate various quantities of directed and nondirected time and to use them in a decision-making framework, makes humans truly unique in the animal kingdom. A personal time investment portfolio that is needed to maximize some lifestyle goal such as financial success, social approval, creative expression, or just to be "entertained," defines the lifetime of an individual and makes humans and their relationship to time so complex and interesting.

Modern, mass, post-industrial societies sometimes place conflicting demands on adolescent boys and girls with regard to their allocation of time. In an illuminating article called "The Empty Self," Cushman (1992) describes how post- world War II, welfare-based societies have created a psychological emptiness in many individuals. This emptiness, according to Cushman, has to be filled by activities that are suited to mass consumerism. The dominant format for these activities is passive, nondirected, and entertainment-oriented. In fact, a multitude of service industries from the Internet to TV programming to the shopping mall, are specifically designed for this time-filling purpose.

In essence, the core issue of time allocation in humans is how individuals (assuming an 80-year life span) use the nearly 701,000 hours of directed and nondirected time. While previous generations had to establish time investment portfolios of only outer-, other-, and inner-directed time, nondirected activities have now become a major part of the portfolio of many children and adolescents.

Activities associated with consumerism and entertainment - especially TV viewing - presently fill much of an adolescent's time. Filling time in a passive, nondirected manner is especially pronounced in children who are believed to exhibit "at-risk" school behaviors by their teachers. These children tend to go to school totally unprepared (e.g., no pencils, pens, completed homework assignments) and attend merely to "hang out" with friends. While in medieval times, monasteries, guilds, and farms attempted to provide "directed and proactive" types of time allocation, today, TV provides a passive, nondirected, and entertainment-oriented use of time.

This study examines whether time allocation preferences are different for a sample of adolescent boys as compared to girls attending schools located in a large urban area. Allocation of time is particularly important in the study of adolescent behavior, since misuse of time often results in educational deficits, social deficits and, most importantly, economic deficits. …

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