Soaking Up the Media: Full-Time Job for Kids

Children Spend 6.5 Hours a Day With TV, Computers and Other Media

From the WebMD Archives

Mar. 10, 2005 -- Many American kids are growing up with media as a constant companion.

"Young people today live media-saturated lives, spending an average of nearly 6.5 hours a day with media," says a new Kaiser Family Foundation report. That equals about 44.5 hours per week, as much as a full-time job, says the report.

Kids' Media Use

The study looked at a wide range of media including TV, music, computers, and video games. TV and music were the top media sources among kids and teens. Interactive media came next, followed by reading. Here's how each source ranked, with participants' average daily hours:

  • TV: 3 hours (nearly 4 hours with DVDs, videos, and prerecorded shows)
  • Music: 1.4 hours
  • Computers: 1 hour (not counting schoolwork)
  • Video games: 49 minutes
  • Reading: 43 minutes (books, magazines, newspapers not required for school)

When it comes to TV, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no more than one to two hours of quality TV or videos for older children per day, and no screen time for children under 2 years.

The Kaiser Family Foundation's report is based on a national sample of 2,000 children aged 8-18 years. Participants filled out anonymous written questionnaires detailing their media use on the previous day. Additional information came from media diaries kept for a week by nearly 700 young people.

Researchers included Stanford University communication professor Donald F. Roberts, PhD, who has studied children and media since the 1960s. Roberts has also served as an educational consultant for some children's TV programs and helped develop the rating and parental advisory system adopted by the computer game industry.

How Many Media Devices Are in Kids' Homes?

The children and teens in the study had many ways to access the media. The typical participant lives in a home with:

  • 3.6 CD or tape players
  • 3.5 TVs
  • 3.3 radios
  • 2.9 VCRs/DVD players
  • 2.1 video game consoles
  • 1.5 computers

Almost one in four live in homes with five or more TVs. In 63% of the kids' homes, TV usually stays on during meals. TV is left on most of the time -- even if no one is watching it -- in half (51%) of the kids' homes, says the report.

Race, Class Gaps

Most children of all major ethnic and socioeconomic groups had Internet access at home. However, some gaps remain.

For instance, 80% of white participants had Internet access at home, compared with 61% of black youth. In addition, about half (54%) of kids going to school in communities with average incomes of less than $35,000 per year go online daily, compared with 71% of those from communities with an average income of more than $50,000 per year.

Wired Bedrooms

Many of the participants had media equipment in their bedrooms.

  • 68% had a TV
  • 54% had a VCR/DVD player
  • 49% had a video game player
  • 31% had a computer in their bedroom

Media Multitasking

Kids and teens often dabble in more than one type of media at a time, says the report. For instance, they may play music while reading, or go online while also keeping an eye on the TV.

"Given that about a quarter (26%) of the time young people are using media, they're using more than one medium at a time, they are actually exposed to the equivalent of 8.5 hours a day of media content, even though they pack that into less than 6.5 hours of time," researchers write.

The Foundation says it's not sure how multitasking affects kids. "Kids are multitasking and consuming many different kinds of media all at once," says Drew Altman, PhD, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, in a news release. "Multitasking is a growing phenomenon in media use and we don't know whether it's good or bad or both."

How Do Kids Divide Up Their Time?

Here's how the participants spent the rest of their time on an average day:

  • Hanging out with parents: 2 hours, 17 minutes
  • Hanging out with friends: 2 hours, 16 minutes
  • Physical activity: 1 hour, 25 minutes
  • Hobbies or other activities: 1 hour
  • Talking on the phone: 53 minutes
  • Doing homework: 50 minutes
  • Working at a job: 35 minutes
  • Doing chores: 32 minutes

Most Participants Say They're Happy, Active

"Contrary to most expectations, it does not appear that spending time with media takes away from the time children spend in other pursuits," says the report. "In fact, it seems that those young people who spend the most time using media are also those whose lives are the most full with family, friends, sports, and other interests," the report notes.

Most of the kids reported being largely happy and well adjusted. However, the 18% who ranked lowest in "contentedness" spent more time with media (nine hours and 44 minutes of total daily media exposure, compared with about eight hours for other kids). That doesn't mean that the media is to blame for those participants' discontent.

The study also showed no difference between the amount of time the kids said they spent in physical activities between heavy and light TV users. That was also true for those spending the most time with all media and those spending less time with media.

However, other research has indicated that media may be linked to kids' weight problems, inactivity, violence, and other issues.

Results suggest that families may watch TV together. Is that quality time? The study isn't sure.

"It's unclear how much real interaction occurs between parents and their children when they're watching TV together," says the study. "Young people who live in homes where the TV is left on during meals or is simply left on most of the time are less likely to say they talk to their parents about problems than other kids."

Rules Aren't Always Established

Just more than half (53%) of the participants said their families had no rules about TV watching. Another 46% said their families have some rules, but only 20% said those rules are enforced most of the time.

Of the study's youngest participants -- aged 8-10 years -- 55% said there were TV rules in their homes.

It can be tough to keep up with kids' media use. Not sure where to start? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers these tips for parents:

  • Make a media plan. Schedule media times and choices in advance.
  • Set media time limits. Try using a timer.
  • Set family guidelines for media content. Check content ratings and parental advisories. Help children and teens make appropriate choices.
  • Be clear and consistent with children about media rules.
  • Keep TVs, VCRs, video games, and computers out of children's bedrooms. Instead, place those items where you can be involved and monitor use.
  • Make media a family activity. Whenever possible, use media with your children and talk about what's presented.
  • Encourage kids to ask questions about media messages. Discuss and compare media messages to the values you want your child to learn.
  • Look for media "side effects." For instance, notice any increase in nightmares, aggressive behavior, poor school performance, increased eating of unhealthy foods, smoking, drinking, or drug use. Media may -- or may not -- be a factor, but it could help to be aware of all possible influences, including media.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Kaiser Family Foundation, "Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds." News release, Kaiser Family Foundation. American Academy of Pediatrics, "Media Guidelines for Parents."
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