Media use by American children has surged to 10 hours and 45 minutes daily according to a survey released January 20 by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
American children in the 8-to-18-year-old category spend 4 hours and 29 minutes on TV each day, compared to 3 hours 52 minutes in 2004. Music/audio use, now with iPods and MP3 players, jumped from 1 hour 44 minutes in 2004 to 2 hours 31 minutes in 2009. Videogames took up an average of 1 hour and 13 minutes, reading electronic print used 38 minutes, and movie-watching averaged 25 minutes per day. The data inspired the New York Times to use the headline: “Children Awake? Then They’re Probably Online.”
The results surprised the report’s authors since they thought that 8 hours 33 minutes of electronic media use in 2004 was the maximum time left in a student’s day. But students were able to push their electronic life several hours higher, and even “multi-tasking” by texting while watching videos.
The survey included more than 2,000 “tweens” and teenagers nationwide. The youngsters reported on their usage and about 700 kept week-long dairies to record their use of media each half-hour. The same questions were also used in 1999 and 2004 surveys.
Ownership of iPods and MP3 players increased from 18% in 2004 to 76% today.
Only 18% owned a cell phone in 2004; now 66% do.
Ownership of laptop computers has only risen from 12% to 29%.
Home internet access has reached 84% in this sample (although internet marketing companies indicate this has dropped the last three years due to the economy). 59% of homes have broadband access.
While much media is anchored at home, youngsters are spending about 2 hours each day on mobile devices. Even use of traditional radio and television is changing; more youngsters are using iTunes or Hulu to stream media on demand.
And the main use of cell phones is not as a phone! For youngsters, texting and watching other media on the cell phone takes up more time than talking.
By far, listening to music and audio has surged the most, followed by TV content, computers and videogames. Watching movies has remained stationary, and reading of print has gone down. While various eBook platforms are relatively new, many media experts suspect that youngsters’ growing use of the cell phone for non-phone media will make the Kindle and related e-readers obsolete.
What is skipped in media reports is the educational implications of the Kaiser survey. There is an inverse relationship between media use and good grades, with 51% of heavy users getting good grades versus 66% of light users. “Nearly half (47%) of all heavy media users say they usually get fair or poor grades (mostly Cs or lower), compared to 23% of light media users.” Heavy users are less likely to get along with their parents, less happy at school, are more often bored, get into trouble at twice the rate, and are often sad or unhappy compared to light media users. The study is careful not to claim a cause-and-effect relationship, but point out that media use and these dispositions could be caused by a third factor.
While daily use did not vary much by gender (11 hours, 12 minutes for boys to 10 hours 17 minutes for girls), girls lost interest in video games and played far less as teenagers, averaging only 3 minutes per day. Data again strongly suggest that videogame use is a major factor in derailing boys from higher academic success. But despite the figures, that conclusion is avoided in all reports, including this one, since most Americans believe the new electronic media can do no wrong.
[The report: “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds” is available at the Kaiser Family Foundation website.]