U.S. Kids Using Media Almost 8 Hours a Day

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 20 (HealthDay News) -- The amount of time American children and teens spend watching TV, playing video games or surfing the Internet has increased dramatically, to almost eight hours a day, a new report finds.

In fact, over the past five years the amount of time the average 8- to 18-year-old spent with media is up by 1 hour, 17 minutes a day -- from 6 hours, 21 minutes in 2004 to 7 hours, 38 minutes now.

"The thing that jumps out is the enormous amount of time kids spend consuming media," said report co-author Victoria Rideout, vice president and director of the Program for the Study of Media and Health at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"It's more than seven and a half hours a day, seven days a week," she said. "That's more than 53 hours a week -- more time than grownups spend in a full-time job."

Anything that children spend that much time doing is something that needs to be studied, Rideout said. "Media use is neither inherently good or bad, but from a health perspective there are a lot of things to think about," she said.

The Kaiser Family Foundation is to release the report at a special forum to be held Wednesday in Washington, D.C., which is to be attended by the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, media executives and child development experts. The findings are based on a survey of more than 2,000 American children aged 8 to 18, conducted between October 2008 and May 2009.

According to the report, the steep rise in kids' media use is tied to an explosion in the availability of mobile devices, such as cell phones and iPods. The number of children with cell phones has ballooned from 39 percent in 2004 to 66 percent today, and from 18 percent to 76 percent for those with MP3 players, according to the report.

Cell phones are now multimedia devices, so kids on the go actually spend more time listening to music, playing games, and watching TV on their phone (49 minutes daily) than they do talking on them (33 minutes a day), the report found.

At home, too, media is pervasive. In 64 percent of homes, the TV is on during meals. In 45 percent of homes the TV is on most of the time -- even when no one is watching it, the survey found.

And when children go to their rooms, media still surrounds them, with 71 percent saying they have a TV in their bedroom and 50 percent saying they have a video game player, the researchers report.

Children in homes where the TV is left on watch an hour and a half more; with a TV in the bedroom they watch an hour more, the report noted.

The survey also found that few American parents place any rules on how much time their children spend with media. Only 28 percent of kids cited parental rules on TV watching and only 30 percent were subject to rules on video game use. In addition, only 36 percent of parents limited kids' computer time.

In homes where parents did set limits, children spend about three hours less consumed by media, the report found.

Spending time with media appeared to take a toll on school performance. The researchers found that 47 percent of kids who are heavy media users (more than 16 hours a day) got only "fair" or "poor" academic grades, compared with 23 percent of light-media users (less than three hours a day).

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