The media generation

If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online, reports the New York Times, quoting a Kaiser Family Foundation study.

Those ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day with electronic devices — plus another hour and a half texting and a half-hour talking on their cellphones.

The study’s findings shocked its authors, who had concluded in 2005 that use could not possibly grow further, and confirmed the fears of many parents whose children are constantly tethered to media devices.

. . . Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston who directs the Center on Media and Child Health, said that with media use so ubiquitous, it was time to stop arguing over whether it was good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment, “like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.”

Not surprisingly, the very heavy media users (16+ hours a day), who make up 21 percent of the total, were more likely to earn low grades than the light users (three hours or less), who make up 17 percent.

The heaviest media users were also more likely than the lightest users to report that they were bored or sad, or that they got into trouble, did not get along well with their parents and were not happy at school.

The study could not say whether the media use causes problems, or, rather, whether troubled youths turn to heavy media use.

Over the past five years, ownership of cell phones and iPods has soared among 8- to 18-year-olds, growing from 39% to 66% for cell phones, and from 18% to 76% for iPods and other MP3 players.

. . . 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).

When parents limit TV watching, video games or computer use, children average three hours less usage per day.  But 70 percent of parents set no rules.

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.  Again, children in these TV-centric homes spend far more time watching: 1:30 more a day in homes where the TV is left on most of the time, and an hour more among those with a TV in their room.

“Black and Hispanic children consume nearly 4½ hours more media daily than whites,” the study found.

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.

Time spent reading books held steady at 25 minutes a day, with another nine minutes with magazines and newspapers.

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  1. Wow, that’s scary. It would be interesting to see a breakdown of the ages. I know that I tended to limit my kids’ screen time more when they were younger (and they didn’t even have cell phones) than I do now. I suspect that the hours go up as children get older.

    Time to get out the board games!

  2. Are the numbers really that different for adults, at least those middle-aged or younger? They’re using computers for 8 hours a day at work. During lunch they’re sitting in restaurants playing cellphone games. When commuting they’re listening to the radio or music, or mucking around on their iPhones or laptops if using public transportation. When they get home, after the kids are in bed, they watch TV, movies, play Xboxes, or use the computer some more. And even when I take my kids to the playground all I see is a bunch of children running around while their parents look down, tapping away at their cellphones.

  3. I do think this is quite scary. My daughter has just turned eight and is computer obsessed. She also loves to read and write, but the computer is her favourite thing. I’m not thrilled about that and we do limit it, but I know that sometimes when she goes to friends, they are online the whole time….

  4. Our kids are from mid-20s to mid-30s and the best thing we ever did was to limit their electronics. We never had any computer/video games and they never had a computer or TV in their room at home. The younger ones had to have a computer for college and they had cellphones at college. They still have no games and I’ve never see them play games on their cell phone, although one does use an ipod on the way to work and while travelling. Most of their online time is reading news etc. and email. I think only one uses Facebook and only rarely. The original decision not to do the game thing was a lot better idea than we knew. Of course, they were all on the honors/AP route and doing full-time travel sports, so they didn’t have a lot of free time.

  5. Nels had a good point, chances are that in these households whese the kids are online for 8 hours a day you’ll also find either adults that are also online or absent due to work or other reasons.
    The two key factors that I see missing from my students are common knowledge and discipline, both of which should be the primary responsibility of parents. We have students asking what the number is for the month of January (junior), students who don’t realize that lakes don’t completely freeze like ice cubes with fish in them during the winter (8th), and of course the students who can’t tell time (ranging all the way up to seniors).
    But, of course, they’ll be able to tell you in real time every single word that was part of their friend’s break-up conversation.


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