A new Kaiser Family Foundation study about children and teen's use of media has some startling implications.
The report, which was released last Wednesday, found that "entertainment media" use among children and teens is up dramatically from five years ago. It also found that about 70 percent of youth say their families have no rules about how much time they can spend with TV, video games or computers.
I have to admit I was a bit disturbed after poring through the 85-page report. But it's important to put this study into a broader context of how kids use media and how kids manage risk.
Kids today spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day consuming what the report calls "entertainment media." But it gets worse. If you consider that kids are multi-tasking, it's actually closer to 11 hours. That's nearly every minute of every day when kids aren't in school or sleeping.
The report, "Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds," compares data from 2009 to similar studies done in 2004 and 1999.
The study found that kids who are heavy media users get lower grades. There was no cause and effect stated, but Kaiser found that 47 percent of heavy media users "say they usually get fair or poor grades (mostly Cs or lower)," compared to 23 percent of light users.
It also found that black and Hispanic youth spend far more time with media than white youth. Black and Hispanic children consume nearly 4 1/2 hours more media daily (13 hours, compared to 8 hours and 36 minutes for whites). TV viewing accounts for a lot of the difference. Black children spend nearly 6 hours and Hispanics just under 5 1/2 hours watching TV, compared to roughly 3 1/2 hours a day for white youth, the report said.
Watching regular old TV actually declined by 25 minutes a day since 2004. But when you add in TV consumption online and on cell phones, it went up.
Not surprisingly, kids are spending more time using computers than they were five years ago -- up to one hour and 29 minutes from one hour 2 minutes in 2004. Also no surprise, social networking is occupying more of their time.
"In a typical day," said the report, "40 percent 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 there. Fifty-three percent of 15- to 18-year-olds use social networking sites.
Mobile devices account for a lot of kids' media use today. Sixty-six percent of 8- to 18-year-olds now have cell phones, compared to 39 percent five years ago. Seventy-six percent have iPods and other media players, up from 18 percent. Kids spend an average of 33 minutes a day talking on a cell phone, while 7th-to-12th graders spend an average of one hour and 35 minutes texting -- that's 118 messages per day.
While I have serious concerns about kids -- and adults, for that matter -- spending too much time using media, polishing their Facebook pages or texting with their friends, I don't think it's the same as the passive media consumption of previous generations.
Social networking and interaction with peers has lots of positive implications as well. We should compare this with how kids earlier spent time in malls, cafes and bowling alleys, and talking on landlines. Kids hang out online just as they used to hang out in these other venues. True, using a computer to access Facebook is a type of media consumption, but it's really social interaction. Besides, it's not just consumption. Kids are also producing media in the form of posts, photos and videos.
I'm in no way dismissing some of the disturbing findings about a generation of youth that is involved with media nearly every minute they're awake and not in school. I think schools and parents need to put some thought into kids' media diets.
But I know some incredibly bright and engaged kids who are growing up and thriving in this media environment. As anyone who spends time around teens will tell you -- most of them are a joy to be around. And they're media-savvy too.
More about the study
Kids pack in nearly 11 hours of media use daily (Larry Magid/CNET News)
Major study on youth & media: Let's take a closer look (Anne Collier, NetFamilyNews)
Audio podcast interview with study co-director Victoria Rideout (Larry Magid CBS News/CNET)
This post adapted from a column that first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News