U.S. Kids Using Media Almost 8 Hours a Day

WEDNESDAY Jan. 20, 2010 -- The amount of time American children and teens spend watching TV, playing video games or surfing the Internet has increased dramatically, to almost eight hours a day, a new report finds.

In fact, over the past five years the amount of time the average 8- to 18-year-old spent with media is up by 1 hour, 17 minutes a day -- from 6 hours, 21 minutes in 2004 to 7 hours, 38 minutes now.

"The thing that jumps out is the enormous amount of time kids spend consuming media," said report co-author Victoria Rideout, vice president and director of the Program for the Study of Media and Health at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"It's more than seven and a half hours a day, seven days a week," she said. "That's more than 53 hours a week -- more time than grownups spend in a full-time job."

Anything that children spend that much time doing is something that needs to be studied, Rideout said. "Media use is neither inherently good or bad, but from a health perspective there are a lot of things to think about," she said.

The Kaiser Family Foundation is to release the report at a special forum to be held Wednesday in Washington, D.C., which is to be attended by the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, media executives and child development experts. The findings are based on a survey of more than 2,000 American children aged 8 to 18, conducted between October 2008 and May 2009.

According to the report, the steep rise in kids' media use is tied to an explosion in the availability of mobile devices, such as cell phones and iPods. The number of children with cell phones has ballooned from 39 percent in 2004 to 66 percent today, and from 18 percent to 76 percent for those with MP3 players, according to the report.

Cell phones are now multimedia devices, so kids on the go actually spend more time listening to music, playing games, and watching TV on their phone (49 minutes daily) than they do talking on them (33 minutes a day), the report found.

At home, too, media is pervasive. In 64 percent of homes, the TV is on during meals. In 45 percent of homes the TV is on most of the time -- even when no one is watching it, the survey found.

And when children go to their rooms, media still surrounds them, with 71 percent saying they have a TV in their bedroom and 50 percent saying they have a video game player, the researchers report.

Children in homes where the TV is left on watch an hour and a half more; with a TV in the bedroom they watch an hour more, the report noted.

The survey also found that few American parents place any rules on how much time their children spend with media. Only 28 percent of kids cited parental rules on TV watching and only 30 percent were subject to rules on video game use. In addition, only 36 percent of parents limited kids' computer time.

In homes where parents did set limits, children spend about three hours less consumed by media, the report found.

Spending time with media appeared to take a toll on school performance. The researchers found that 47 percent of kids who are heavy media users (more than 16 hours a day) got only "fair" or "poor" academic grades, compared with 23 percent of light-media users (less than three hours a day).

There were also big racial/ethnic differences in media consumption, with black and Hispanic children spending more time per day with media than white children -- about four and a half hours more, on average. This disparity has only gotten larger since 2004, according to the report.

Surfing the Internet -- especially social networking sites such as FaceBook, playing games and watching videos on YouTube and other sites -- has also increased the time kids spend on media by almost an hour a day, the researchers added.

About 74 percent of teens now have a social-networking page on Face Book or similar site, they noted.

Except for going to the movies or reading, all other daily media use has gone up during the last five years, the report found. Listening to music has increased 47 minutes daily, watching TV has gone up by 38 minutes, computer time has increased 27 minutes and time spent playing video games had gone up 24 minutes a day.

Children spend about four and one-half hours daily in front of the TV, about two and one-half hours listening to music, an hour and a half on the computer, about an hour and a quarter playing video games, and just 38 minutes reading.

Youngsters aren't just doing one of these activities one at a time, either -- they're multitasking, which also adds to daily media consumption. Among adolescents, 43 percent said they typically use one other medium while listening to music, 40 percent while on the computer and 39 percent while watching TV, according to the report.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Fewer children are reading magazines and newspapers, but reading this type of media online has increased.
  • Almost 50 percent use media while doing homework.
  • Girls spend more time on social networking sites, listening to music and reading than boys.
  • Boys spend more time than girls playing video games, computer games or visiting YouTube or other video sites.
  • Media use goes up dramatically when kids hit 11.
  • Teens spend about an hour and a half texting each day.

Rideout noted that problems with media include obesity from inactivity, and potential harm for viewing sexual or violent content. There are also issues regarding multitasking, she said. "We don't know if that is something that's a good thing or a bad thing for young people."

There may also be impacts from media use on sleep, attention and school performance, she said.

Douglas A. Gentile, director of the Media Research Lab at Iowa State University, agreed there are many potential dangers from this much media involvement.

One problem is not what the children are doing with all this time, but what they are not doing, Gentile said. "The more time we spend not being active, just being passive, we are losing skills that need practice, whether that's reading or math or social skills," he said.

Using media to connect with others -- rather than in the "real world" -- may also be affecting the kind of social interaction children learn, he said. "It's not the same type of social interaction they have when they are face-to-face with someone," he said. "It may not be isolating so much, as socially distorting."

Media multitasking may also be harmful, Gentile said. "The research is getting clearer that multitasking really damages productivity. It damages the quality of work and it damages how much you can get done."

But parents can change things. "Parents are in a really powerful position. They do not have to give up the fight," Gentile said. "When they do put limits on how much time and what types of content kids can watch, that's a powerful protective factor for kids. Those kids get better grades, those kids get in fewer physical fights."

"We are raising a generation of kids who may have a problem maintaining sustained and focused attention, because they are so used to being distracted," Gentile said.

Another expert agreed that parents need to set rules about media use.

Jennifer Manganello, an assistant professor in the department of health policy, management, & behavior in the School of Public Health at the State University of New York at Albany, said "this latest report provides important, new information regarding media use by youth in the United States."

"The fact that many of the youth who participated in the study say they have no rules regarding media use suggests we can do more to get information to parents about recommended practices to help decrease time spent with media, such as removing a TV from the bedroom," she said.

More information

For more information on children and the media, visit the American Psychological Association.

Posted: January 2010


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