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Study finds dramatic increase in media consumption among kids

By Michael Connolly

Children and teens are spending more time with entertainment media than ever before, accordingly to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation released today.

The amount of time spent with media increased by an hour and seventeen minutes over the past five years, up from 6 hours 21 minutes in 2004 to 7 hours 38 minutes today.

And that doesn't include the impact of multitasking – using more than one entertainment medium at a time; if all media is totaled independently, the amount of content consumed on a daily basis is up from 8 hours 33 minutes in 2004 to a staggering 10 hours 45 minutes today.

The study was conducted between October 2008 and May 2009 among a nationally representative sample of 2,002 3rd–12th grade students ages 8–18. The study focused on recreational use of media; time spent using a computer or reading for school was not included in the media use calculations.

TV remains the most popular source of media content among young people, accounting for 4 hours 29 minutes of daily media consumption. The complete breakdown across all media sources is as follows:

The Foundation attributes much of the increase in media use to the proliferation of mobile devices such as smartphones and iPods. These devices have allowed kids to remain connected to their media at all hours of the day and night. And phones have become true multi-media devices. In fact, Kaiser found that young people now spend more time listening to music, playing games and watching video on their cell phones that they spend talking on them.

Other findings from the Kaiser Family Foundation survey:

  • Only about 3 in 10 young people say they have rules about how much time they can spend watching TV, playing video games or using the computer. However, when parents do set limits – any kind of limits – kids subject to those rules spend almost 3 hours a day less consuming media than kids without any rules.
  • 7 in 10 children have a TV in their bedroom and 50% have a video game console in their room. About two-thirds (64%) say the TV is usually on during meals, and 45% say the TV is on "most of the time" in their household.
  • Black and Hispanic children spend far more time with media than white children do. Some of the largest differences are in TV viewing: black children spend nearly 6 hours and Hispanics just under 5½ hours watching TV compared to roughly 3½ hours for white children. The racial disparity in overall media use between non-white and white children has grown substantially in the last 5 years, up from just over 2 hours in 2004 to 4 hours 23 minutes in 2009.
  • Social networking has contributed to increased media use. Three-quarters of all 7th–12th graders say they have a profile on a social networking site.
  • High levels of multitasking contribute to the large amounts of media consumed each day. Four out of ten 7th–12th graders reported using multiple media sources when they listen to music, use a computer or watch TV.
  • About half of all young people surveyed said they use media most or some of the time when they are doing homework.

The report highlights how critical the tween years are when it comes to establishing media habits. Media use among 11–14 year-olds jumps dramatically across all categories when compared to the 8–10 age group. Pediatricians and other childcare experts have stressed the importance of having firm rules in place by the time children reach their tween years, otherwise bad habits become hard to break later on.

President & CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, Drew Altman, summed up the problems for parents, educators and policymakers in the face of today's relentless media onslaught: "The amount of time young people spend with media has grown to where it's even more than a full-time work week. When children are spending this much time doing anything, we need to understand how it's affecting them."

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