'Multi-Tasking' Changing Kids' Use of Media

Children and teenagers are "multi-tasking," using new media like computers, the Internet and video games without cutting back on old media like television, to pack in an equivalent of eight and a half hours a day of exposure to media.

That's according to a study released Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation on children's use of media.


The study, "Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds," found that young people spend almost exactly the same amount of time with media as they did five years ago, while time spent with video games has nearly doubled and computer use has more than doubled.


"As new media have been introduced into children's life, they haven't cut back on old media to make room," Vicki Rideout, a Kaiser Foundation vice president who directed the study, said at a forum presenting the findings. "They're still spending the same amount of time. What they're doing is they are doubling up on their media and packing more media use into the same amount of time."


"That's something we call media multitasking," Rideout said, which has been virtually unstudied.


Young people spend about six-and-a-half hours a day using media, according to the report, the equivalent of a full-time job with overtime when spread out over seven days. More than a quarter (26 percent) said they use more than one medium at a time, such as listening to music while reading or using the Internet while watching TV.


Young people spend an average of three hours a day watching TV, and nearly four hours when videos, DVDs and prerecorded shows are included. They devote one and three-quarter hours a day listening to music on radio, CDs, tapes or MP3 players.


Interactive media come in next, with young people averaging just over an hour a day on the computer outside of schoolwork, 49 minutes playing video games. Reading books, magazine or newspapers for pleasure is close behind, at an average of 43 minutes.


The six-and-half hours a day devoted to media use dwarfs other activities, including two hours and 17 minutes spent hanging out with parents, about an hour and a half in physical activity, 50 minutes doing homework and 32 minutes doing chores.


Children's bedrooms have increasingly become multi-media centers, raising questions about supervision and exposure to unlimited media content, according to the report. Two thirds of young people have a TV in their bedroom, half have a VCR or DVD player and a video game player in their room, and nearly a third (31 percent) have their own computer.


While parents say they have strong concerns about children's exposure to media, about half of 8-18 year-olds said their families have no rules about television watching. Forty-six percent said they have rules, but just one in five said those rules are enforced "most of the time."


In a keynote address, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said the report "paints a picture that I believe will surprise parents across the nation."


"It reveals the enormous diet of media that children are consuming at once and demands that we pay better attention and take more effective action to protect our kids from being saturated with destructive influences," Clinton said.


Rideout said the study raises more questions than it answers, such as whether multi-tasking media use is a good or a bad thing.


"This generation truly is the media generation, spending more than a quarter of every day consuming media messages, surrounded by media in their homes in their bedrooms and when they leave their homes, Rideout said. "Anything that takes up this much time certainly deserves our full attention."


The majority of young people from each of the major ethnic and socioeconomic groups now has Internet access, but there remains a substantial "digital divide" between them. For example, 80 percent of while youth have Internet access at home, compared to 67 percent of Hispanics and 61 percent of African Americans.


Nearly three out of four (73 percent) young people said they read for pleasure in a typical day, while nearly one-third (30 percent) said they either talk on the phone, instant message, watch TV, listen to music or surf the Web "most of the time" they're doing homework.


The report is based on a survey of about 2,000 youth in the third through 12th grade and a self-selected sample of about 700 who kept seven-day diaries recording their media usage. The Kaiser Family Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing information and analysis on healthcare issues to policymakers, the media and the general public.


Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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