Media Use by Teens and Adolescents Continues to Explode
Has the time come for parents to pull the plug on mobile media?
A recent study completed by the Kaiser Family Foundation brought little in the way of surprises for those who work with children. But just to set the record straight, the foundation found that daily media use among children and teens is up dramatically even when compared to just five years ago.
With mobile devices providing nonstop internet availability, it is easy to see that entertainment media has never been more accessible than it is right now. The results of the Kaiser survey reveals that children, particularly minority youth, are taking advantage of that access.
But for parents and educators, the key question should not be simply how much time is actually spent with media. Instead, the issue should center upon what effect such consumption has on the mental, emotional and academic development of our youngsters.
According to the Kaiser Foundation, “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).” Again not too surprisingly, a good portion of that time is spent using more than one medium at a time.
The Kaiser folks estimate that if we were to add in the time spent “multi-tasking” as separate exposure time, the daily average increases to 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) of media exposure for 7½ hour usage time frame.
Back in 2004, the data indicated that 8-18 year-olds averaged 6 hours and 21 minutes of consumption time and 8 hours and 33 minutes of exposure time (again when multi-tasking was taken in to account). The 1 hour and 17 minute increase in consumption equates to a 20% increase over the five-year period and the 2 hours and 12 minutes of exposure time represents a 26% increase over the same time frame.
Most of the increase is due to the availability of mobile devices. According to the Kaiser study, increase in cell phone ownership among 8- to 18-year-olds has gone from 39% to 66% over the five-year period. For ownership of iPods and other MP3 players, the increase is even more substantial: from 18% in 2004 to 76% in 2009.
What will not come as a surprise to parents of teens or teachers, the study revealed that young people now spend more time listening to music, playing games, and watching TV on their cell phones than they spend talking on them (49 to 33 minutes daily).
The impact even affects the one time major concern, time spent in front of the television. For the first time, Kaiser found that the amount of time spent watching regularly scheduled TV actually declined, by 25 minutes a day.
But those mobile devices are, of course, providing new ways to watch television. The result was an overall increase in total TV consumption of 38 minutes a day, from 3 hours and 51 minutes to 4 hours and 29 minutes (2:39 consisting of live TV on a TV set and 1:50 on DVDs, online, or on a mobile device).
For those wondering, the Kaiser study did not count texting as media use. If they had done so, 7th-12th graders would have spent an average of another 1:35 a day consuming media.
And the study focused only on recreational use of media. Any time spent using the computer or using mobile devices for school purposes was not included in the Kaiser media use calculations.
The amount of time spent on entertainment media is clearly a function of the expectations and the example set by the parents. First, only about three in ten young people reported having rules regarding how much time they can spend watching TV, playing video games, or using the computer. But in those households where rules were set, children spent significantly less time with media: 2 hours and 52 minutes less.
Almost two-thirds of young people indicated that their TV was usually on during meals. Nearly one half (45%) stated that the TV was left on “most of the time” in their home, even if no one was watching.
Perhaps most disappointingly, more than 70% of the children reported having a TV in their own bedroom. A full 50% indicated they had a console video game player in their room as well.
Children in those homes where the TV was on during meals or when no one was watching reported spending 1 hour and 30 minutes more per day on the television. For those with a television in their room, the average reported television consumption increased by an hour.
Ramifications for Parents
Ultimately, the important item for parents is the impact of media consumption that now amounts to 13 hours more than the typical work week for adults.
According to the Kaiser study, the heaviest media users, those who consume more than 16 hours of media a day, reported getting lower grades. About one-half of heavy media users said they usually get fair or poor grades, defined as mostly Cs or lower. Only one-fourth of light users, those who consume less than 3 hours of media a day, reported getting such grades.
While cause and effect is not made clear by such revelations, other experts have noted significant ramifications of a child’s hypermediated environment. Tufts professor and researcher Maryanne Wolf believes that parents need to limit the time their children spend on electronic devices.
The director of the Tufts University Center for Reading and Language Research has spent time researching the impact of digital media on the brain. While technology has some pluses, Wolf expresses strong concerns about the instant gratification that today’s media provides. She also believes that technology is slowly eroding our ability to think deeply.
Of today’s media immersion, Wolf offers:
“A child is learning to be distracted,” she explains. “They aren’t learning in too many places to concentrate and think deeply for themselves. The volume of information, the immediacy of information . . . these are characteristics that can be good, but they can also lead to a less active, [less superficial] learning style.”
The antidote to all the media exposure is simple and yet oh so challenging. Wolf insists that we must take that all important step, to limit usage by turning the “darn things off.”
Wolf is not a parent of a current teen – but if she were, she clearly indicates what she would do:
“If I were a parent today, I would limit the time that my children were online or hooked up to something. What you really want is to help each child learn to use their time well.”
As an example from her own busy life, Wolf states that she expressly
begins and ends each day with an hour that is completely free of anything that is professionally demanding, whether it be e-mail or Internet or anything. Instead, she focuses on hitting the proverbial pause button, books or activities that require her to slow down.
Parents Need to Be Aware
There is no hiding one fact – media use by our youngsters is exploding. In light of that development, parents need to be aware that concerns are growing regarding the time our “wired” youngsters are spending with that media.
Given what we are learning about brain development, such exposure is no doubt having an effect on the intellectual capacities of those youngsters. With cognitive development still forming throughout that 8-18 year-old time frame, it would seem to be a no-brainer that parents would want to insist on a little more balance in their children’s lives.