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Kids and Media: Joined at the Hip

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A brand new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that among young people 8-18, use of every type of media has increased over the past 10 years, with the exception of reading. Over the past five years, there has been a large increase in media use among young people.

  • Five years ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that young people spend almost 6 ½ hours a day (6 hours and 21 minutes to be exact) using media. Counting multitasking, young people packed 8 ½ hours (8 hours and 33 minutes) worth of media content into that time.
  • Today, that amount has increased by an hour and 17 minutes daily, from 6 hours and 21 minutes to seven hours and 38 minutes a day--that is more than 7 ½ hours. Again including multitasking, young people now spend 10 hours and 45 minutes a day on the media.

An explosion in mobile and online media has fueled this increase in media use.

  • For example, total time spent playing video games increased by about 24 minutes over the past five years, and 20 minutes of that increase comes from cell phones, iPods and handheld video game players.

I love my iPhone. I don't bemoan the world of our kids and suggest we harken back to a simpler time. It is their world and like ours it will have its ups and downs. Still, the facts are startling and as parents and educators it is our duty to equip our children to thrive in their world.

Kids seem to have perfected the skill of multitasking--but in our distracting culture, there are some other skills they need to perfect.

Ten, even five years ago, we didn't think of "teaching" the life skill of "focus" to our children, but now I see it as an essential skill and a skill that must be taught. The question for parents is, what is your experience of our tech-ridden world? How do you maintain focus in the midst of the buzz?

A friend with a one-year old son notes that her toddler can work the iPhone- and of course the only reason is that his mom is constantly using her smartphone. He knows what his mom values and he wants to emulate it. This is our world--we can't change it--but as parents we have to help our kids navigate it.

I start my forthcoming book, Mind in the Making, with this exercise,

Think about some words that describe what life is like today. What
words come to mind?

Did your words reflect the challenges of living in a complicated, distracting world? Did you think of words that describe feelings of being rushed, time-starved, of having too much to do and not enough time to do it? Did you focus on the uncertainties, the changes that ricochet in our economic systems, or the volatility of relationships in a diverse and unpredictable world? Did you focus on the moments that give you pleasure, large and small? Life today can be all of these things--complex, distracting, fast moving, 24-7, and stressful. It is also joyful and full of exciting possibilities. We know that if it is this way for us, it is only going to be more so for our children.

We can worry about the state of world but we can also teach our kids new skills to thrive in a culture that wants to do everything in its power to divert them and that is the purpose of Mind in the Making--manageable, no cost things we can do to promote these skills in our children and ourselves.

What are you doing to promote focus in your children, to limit the use of media, and to use media constructively?

For example, one of my friends now does not allow her children to bring cell phones to the dinner table. Another limits screen time at night.

And how do you manage media in your own life?

I encourage you to contribute your ideas here. You can watch a webcast from the Kaiser Family Foundation where experts discuss the impact of kids and media. I also recommend BlogHer.com's series on "Parenting in a Digital World" where you can share ideas with other parents.

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