Thirty-three families were included in a study from Loughborough University and data from home PCs indicated that two-thirds of the time they were used to play entertainment games. Educational games accounted for less than 10 per cent of usage.
According to Lucinda Kerawalla and Charles Crook, readers in psychology, parents' purchasing decisions are at odds with this trend: 64 per cent of CD-Roms bought by the families were associated with school work, but they were used for little more than a quarter of the time. Seventy-three per cent of parents in the study said they bought a computer to help their children with school work, but the authors note that they realised their aspirations might not be realistic. As one parent said: "It's a bit like exercise machines, you have great intentions but the reality's different."
Most families expected that children would prefer to play games and started to buy more educational titles to try to stop them "spending hours and hours playing games".
Yet the study revealed that most parents did very little to encourage children to use the home PC for educational purposes. Some actively resisted dictating what children should do, partly for fear of "hothousing".
One parent explained: "The kids come home from school, they've been there the whole day, what they don't want is to come in and for me to say 'now go and spend an hour doing your tests'."
The one set of parents who did tell their son to do something educational before playing games found he came up with some "very crafty" methods of evading the ruling.
There was little evidence of parents using the PC with their children. More than 70 per cent said their child would not like it if they were there, a quarter did not have enough time, while 9 per cent got impatient at not being able to have a go themselves.
The study was presented last week at the International Conference on Communication, Problem Solving and Learning at Strathclyde University in Glasgow.