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Is heavy media use making our kids unhappy?

1/25/2010 2:32:00 PM

Last week's release of the Kaiser study on media use among tweens and teens attracted a lot of attention. With a number of experts previously suggesting that young people just couldn't fit any more media into their iPod and YouTube-saturated lives, Kaiser surprised everyone by reporting an increase of an hour and 17 minutes in the average daily media consumption of kids aged 8-18 over the last five years.

That average now stands at 7 hours and 38 minutes a day, a figure that increases to 10 hours 45 minutes if you factor in the impact of multi-tasking. And that doesn't include cell phone calls or texts or media consumption related to homework.

Although TV continues to dominate, the proliferation of iPods, other handled devices, broadband and Wi-Fi means that music and web-based content is rapidly gaining ground.

Lost in the headlines were some other findings that should give parents cause for concern: Heavy media users are more likely to have bad grades, more likely to be "often sad or unhappy", less likely to get along well with their parents, and twice as likely to "get into trouble a lot".

What's a heavy media user? A child who consumes more than 16 hours of media content in a typical day, according to the study. A light user consumes less than three hours of media.

However, the report is less clear about cause and effect: Does consuming a lot of media make children's lives more troubled, or do troubled kids simply consume more media?

Interviews with parents, media experts and a handful of teens suggest it's a bit of both. Heavy media use obviously leaves less time for healthier pastimes and limits opportunities for developing lasting and satisfying relationships.

On the other hand, kids that are socially or financially disadvantaged will often turn to the TV, video games or the Internet as their only means of entertainment.    

Kids themselves are equally conflicted: Students have suggested that cell phone and social networks allow them to fit in and make more friends on campus; others claim that an overwhelming amount of media can create a wall, diminishing inter-personal skills and driving away face-to-face contact.

Whatever the theories, a sensible balance seems to be the key. Parents should closely monitor the use of all devices to better understand how the ever-growing media diet is impacting their children's lives.

Is your child a heavy media user or a light media user? Is over 7½ hours of media a day too much? Can it go any higher? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!    

Comment by Jean Parks, posted 1/30/2010, 4:05 PM:

Given that teens need a great deal of sleep, I'd say that over 7 hrs a day of electronic media use is way too much! What time is left for school, exercise,family, friends? Also on TV, on the internet everybody is slimmer, better looking, better dressed, lives in a better house, drives a nicer car than you do.Of course media saturated teens are more depressed after spending most of their waking hours with these messages what average person wouldn't be?
Comment by Robyn's Online World, posted 1/26/2010, 1:59 PM:

I think that my son consumes quite a bit of media each day, but so do I. However, I think depending on how you are using media and which forms of it you use, it doesn't have to be negative. We are all very close in our family - and that closeness is conveyed online even while we text each other, chat on FB and Twitter, share blogs, play video games together, and watch shows/movies together.
Comment by Natasha, posted 1/26/2010, 11:49 AM:

This is something that we've been thinking about a lot. I have brothers that are 20 and 16 and have seen them grow up with the influence of media and now I am trying to figure out how we do right by our own three kids at 6,5 and 3. I know they have to be tech-savvy but where and when is the line drawn?
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