The highly respected Kaiser Foundation has issued the third in its series of reports on children and media, Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-18-year-olds. They found that with technology allowing nearly 24-hour media access as children and teens go about their daily lives, the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth.
Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours. The amount of time spent with media increased by an hour and seventeen minutes a day over the past five years, from 6:21 in 2004 to 7:38 today. And because of media multitasking, the total amount of media content consumed during that period has increased from 8:33 in 2004 to 10:45 today.
It will not come as a surprise to anyone that the increase in media use is driven in large part by ready access to mobile devices like cell phones and iPods. Over the past five years, there has been a huge increase in ownership among 8- to 18-year-olds: from 39% to 66% for cell phones, and from 18% to 76% for iPods and other MP3 players. During this period, cell phones and iPods have become true multi-media devices: in fact, young people now spend more time listening to music, playing games, and watching TV on their cell phones (a total of :49 daily) than they spend talking on them (:33). For the first time, however, actual TV use declined.
The study pointed out some racial differences. Black and Hispanic children consume nearly 4½ hours more media daily (13:00 of total media exposure for Hispanics, 12:59 for Blacks, and 8:36 for Whites). Some of the largest differences are in TV viewing: Black children spend nearly 6 hours and Hispanics just under 5½ hours, compared to roughly 3½ hours a day for White youth. And the racial disparity in media use has grown substantially over the past five years.
It is also not a surprise that the study found that the heaviest media use was associated with poor grades. But what I found particularly distressing was the failure of parents to exercise any oversight. According to the report, only about three in ten young people say they have rules about how much time they can spend watching TV (28%) or playing video games (30%), and 36% say the same about using the computer. But when parents do set limits, children spend less time with media: those with any media rules consume nearly 3 hours less media per day (2:52) than those with no rules.
Worst of all, about two-thirds (64%) of young people say the TV is usually on during meals, and just under half (45%) say the TV is left on “most of the time” in their home, even if no one is watching. Seven in ten (71%) have a TV in their bedroom, and half (50%) have a console video game player in their room. I strongly recommend that parents not allow televisions or other media except for music in bedrooms or at mealtime. Connections are nourished by silence and it is time to remind families that there is no connection via texting, ims, Facebook, phone, blogging, tweeting, or anything else requiring a charger that is as important as in-person, looking-at-each-other conversation. In law school, we learned about “demeanor evidence,” the things you can learn from watching and listening to the way someone says something. Teaching kids how to understand this is more important than all the LOLs and POSes ever typed.