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Kids Are at Risk -- Just Not My Kids

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It's a recurring theme in surveys on the use of technology: parents are asked about the threat posed to children by exposure to too much media and readily agree that there are risks. They are then asked about their own children and their assessment of the risk drops dramatically.

The latest report to reflect this anomaly is called "Families Matter: Designing Media for a Digital Age," which is the result of an extensive survey of parents by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, whose mission is to advance children's learning through digital media.

The report focuses on how families with young children are integrating digital media into their daily lives, and how parental attitudes, along with family values, routines and structures, are shaping young children's digital experiences.

According to the report:
  • 59 percent of parents believe that digital media prevents children from getting physical exercise
  • 53 percent are concerned about their children's online safety and privacy, and
  • 40 percent believe that media infringes on time that would otherwise be spent in face-to-face interactions.

However, when asked to focus closer to home, only 18 percent of parents indicated that their own children spent too much time with technology.

Why the apparent paradox? Part of the reason is surely every mom and dad's understandable reluctance to admit that they may not be a model parent, even if it's in response to an anonymous questionnaire.

However, the Families Matter report suggests another reason: parents may be unaware of just how much media today's kids are consuming.

Laptops, MP3 players, and handheld gaming devices tend to be used in the outer reaches of the home, and less typically positioned the way TV sets are, in a family or living room where parents can see when and what their children are watching and for how long.

A year or so ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a report which suggested that children and teens are spending an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day consuming various forms of media. When the time spent multi-tasking with media was separated out, the total rose to an eye-popping 10 hours, 45 minutes. And that survey was conducted in 2009, before the smartphone revolution provided yet another resource for constant media access.

The truth is that all kids are experiencing way too much screen time and consuming too much media. Telling ourselves that it's a problem for other families is self-serving and unrealistic.

We all bear a responsibility for raising healthy kids, and regulating the amount of media they consume is an increasingly important part of that equation.

Do you know how much time your kids spend with digital media each day? How much of that is school work or learning? Share your thoughts here!

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