Feiler Faster

A meek defense in the NYT about the use of baby videos contains an interesting stat: Children spend 49 minutes a day in front of screens and only 30 minutes a day in front of books. This applies, in this survey, to children, but is there any person on the planet who thinks that gap doesn’t grow with teenagers or young adults? I recently sat with a high-ranking executive of a major children’s publisher (Harry Potter) who reported several alarming trends: First, no teenager does only one thing at a time anymore: They do their homework and text, they eat and listen to music. This is hardly breakthrough news, but when coupled with the other fact is more interesting. The second fact is that when teenagers consumer information, they have grown accustomed to doing so by clicking through links, going deeper and deeper into a story. They read a story about Moses and get interested in pyramids, they click on pyramids they get interested in stone carving, they click on stone carving, and so on. In and of itself, not bad, but it means that they are used to consuming information vertically, not horzontally. Story is what’s in peril here. Especially stories that require concentration over a long period of time.

Videos are indeed being shown in many households with young children. And yes, some parents mistakenly believe that the videos are going to ratchet up their children’s I.Q. But watching hours and hours of baby videos is not the norm.
Only 17 percent of 384 babies in the survey were put in front of videos for an hour or more each day. The average baby watched only about 9 minutes a day. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that the national average may be a bit higher — about 13 minutes a day. And babies’ total screen time, including television, DVDs and even computers, according to Kaiser, is higher still — about 49 minutes per day. But the alarming finding from the University of Washington survey applied only to baby videos. Television time, in contrast, seemed to have no effect, good or bad, on babies this young.
Meanwhile, today’s babies also spend nearly an hour a day playing outside, on average, and more than 30 minutes being read to, according to the Kaiser data. Child advocates wish those numbers were higher, but even so, it’s clear that most babies’ routines are not dominated by videos.

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