Kids pack in nearly 11 hours of media use daily

A study from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows a "dramatic" rise in the amount of time children and teens spend using entertainment media. But is it all bad?

Larry Magid
Larry Magid is a technology journalist and an Internet safety advocate. He's been writing and speaking about Internet safety since he wrote Internet safety guide "Child Safety on the Information Highway" in 1994. He is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, founder of SafeKids.com and SafeTeens.com, and a board member of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Larry's technology analysis and commentary can be heard on CBS News and CBS affiliates, and read on CBSNews.com. He also writes a personal-tech column for the San Jose Mercury News. You can e-mail Larry.
Larry Magid
6 min read
Kaiser Family Foundation

A new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows a "dramatic" rise in the amount of time children and teens spend using entertainment media, "especially among minority youth." The study, "Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-year-olds," only focused on recreational use of media, not homework, school-related online research, or reading books for school.

The report, which was released Wednesday, showed that 8- to 18-year-olds "devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day." That adds up to more than 53 hours a week. And thanks to multitasking, they wind up packing in nearly 10 hours and 45 minutes of content during those seven and a half hours.

The study looked at the use of TV, computers, video games, music, print, and cell phones. It found that media use increased by one hour and 17 minutes a day over the past five years.

Increase in "TV" watching--kids still read books
Although regular TV watching declined by 25 minutes a day, the consumption of online video through the Web, cell phones, and iPods caused an actual increase in total "TV" consumption from 3 hours, 51 minutes to 4 hours, 29 minutes. This includes 24 minutes online, 16 minutes on iPods and other media players, and 15 minutes on cell phones. When it comes to TV viewing, the study asked: "How much time did you spend watching TV shows or movies?" This question, according to Victoria Rideout, Kaiser Family Foundation vice president and director of the study, refers to online or broadcast television programming and movies, not user-generated content from sites like YouTube. It concludes that "young people continue to spend more time consuming TV content than engaged in any other media activity."

Changes in media use, 2004-2009 Kaiser Family Foundation

The only media use that declined was reading printed newspapers and magazines (for pleasure, not for school). All print reading went from 43 to 38 minutes a day, but it's not bad news. Like the rest of us, kids are spending less time reading printed newspapers and magazines, but book reading "remained steady, and actually increased slightly over the past 10 years (from 21 to 25 minutes a day)." On average, kids spend about 2 minutes a day reading magazines and newspapers online.

Cell phones for talking, texting, and media use
I didn't see a breakdown of kids' use of cell phones to read, but there's plenty of data on the use of cell phone for talking, texting, listening to music, and watching video. On average, kids spend 33 minutes a day talking on their phones. Seventh to 12th graders spend a whopping 1 hour and 35 minutes texting for an average of 118 messages a day. Kids spend an average of 17 minutes listening to music, 17 minutes playing games, and 15 minutes "watching TV." That adds up to 49 minutes for all kids in the study, and 1 hour and 6 minutes for 15- to 18-year-olds.

Two-thirds of 8- to 18-year-olds have a cell phone, which is up from 39 percent five years ago.

Computers and social networking
Kids spend an average of one hour and 29 minutes a day using a computer "for entertainment purposes," up from one hour, 2 minutes in 2004.

Social networking was the most popular computer use accounting for an average of 22 minutes a day. The average was 29 minutes among 11- to 14-year-olds and 26 minutes for teens 15 to 18. "In a typical day," the study pointed out, "40% of young people will go to a social networking site, and those who do visit these sites will spend an average of almost an hour a day (:54) there." Fifty-three percent of 15- to 18-year-olds use social-networking sites.

Family rules
Less than a third of the youth say they have rules about how much time they can spend watching TV (28 percent) or playing video games (30 percent). Seventy-one percent have a TV in their bedroom and 50 percent have a video game console in their room.

Of those families that do have rules or other limitations, children "spend substantially less time with media than do children with more media-lenient parents." For example, kids with no TV in their bedroom spend just under eight hours of total media exposure compared to just under 12 hours for kids who do have a TV. Kids whose families impose media rules have 9 hours and 51 minutes of exposure vs. 12 hours, 45 minutes for those with no rules.

Black and Hispanic youth
The report found that black and Hispanic youth spend a lot more time consuming media than whites. Hispanics and blacks average about 13 hours of media exposure daily compared to just over eight and half hours among whites. The report says that the "biggest race-related differences emerge for television time: Black youth spend nearly six hours daily watching TV and Hispanics spend 5:21, compared to 3:36 for whites." Black and Hispanic youth spend about an hour more a day with music and an additional half hour a day with video games.

There was some good news. Compared to 2004, kids spend 21 additional minutes engaged in physical activity: 1:46 vs. 1:25.

What about positive use of social media?
Of course not all use of social media can be lumped as entertainment or recreational. It's also about communicating and--at times--can be a valuable part of young people's education and development.

I'm not suggesting that kids (and adults for that matter) can't waste time on Facebook, but it's important to remember that this is how kids interact and socialize today. Just as kids used to hang out in parks, bowling alleys, and malls, they are now hanging out online. Instead of talking, they're often texting or interacting via their social-networking profiles. While these activities can be time-wasting, they can also be productive, helping kids define their identities, reinforce offline social relationships and express themselves in a variety of ways.

Ethnographic researcher danah boyd, who has spent years studying teens' use of social media, observed in her doctoral dissertation, "Taken Out of Context," that, "teen participation in social network sites is driven by their desire to socialize with peers. Their participation online is rarely divorced from offline peer culture; teens craft digital self-expressions for known audiences and they socialize almost exclusively with people they know."

Boyd goes into detail about the learning process that teens undergo to adapt to social networking. "In crafting a profile, teens must manage a level of explicit self-presentation before invisible audiences that is unheard of in unmediated social situations. The publicly articulated nature of marking social relations can prompt new struggles over status and result in heightened social drama, but as teens learn to manage these processes, they develop strategies for maintaining face in a social situation driven by different rules."

Passive TV vs. interactive media
There is nothing magically better about watching TV shows on a computer or a cell phone than on a TV set. And while the majority of the content kids are consuming may be very similar to what they also get on TV, some of it is created by their peers. Regardless of its quality, user-generated content serves as a reminder that kids are producers as well as consumers of media. In an interview, Kaiser Family Foundation's Victoria Rideout pointed out that "there's some content that kids are consuming that is user-generated entertainment content and some is user-generated communications...but the truth is that that's a very small piece of the pie." Still, as she said, "the lines between media consumption are getting blurred."

This study clearly suggests that there are issues that educators, pediatricians, and--most of all--parents need to address. It's important for all media to be used in moderation and there is a danger of kids spending too much time in both passive and active media. "Media use itself," said Rideout, "is neither inherently good nor inherently bad, but there is something worth noting in just the sheer amount of time kids spend with media and the sheer amount of media content that comes into their lives." Indeed.

Listen to Larry's interview with the study's director, Kaiser Family Foundation Vice President Victoria Rideout.