Kids in media overdrive

A recent story in the New York Times by Tamar Lewin, If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online discussed a recent study about how much media time kids are actually getting these days.  The researchers were stunned to learn that, after concluding in 2005 that kids couldn’t be on their computers, TVs, and cell phones any more than they already were (due to the amount of hours in a day), kids increased their media time by an average of one hour per day—and increased overall media intake to as much as sixteen hours per day… by being on more than one device at the same time.

The average kid between 8 and 18 now spends seven and a half hours on their devices; with their multi-tasking, the average kid is packing in 11 hours of content.

There’s not much point in discussing whether this is good or bad—but there is sense in deepening our understanding of our collective world and working to decide for our kids and our families just how much might be enough versus too much.

The research does suggest that the very heaviest media users had impaired grades, but average (although in my mind “average” is rather heavy at 7.5 hours) users seemed to exercise as much as lighter users and got as good grades.  The biggest consumers of media were more likely to say they felt sad and bored, were unhappy at school, tended to get into trouble and got along poorly with parents.  Still the researchers were unclear about media causing negative feelings versus poor self-esteem and sadness causing a retreat to games and online content.

The study did find that kids who lived in homes with rules about how much media time they could have, and with limits on things like TV during meals or in bedrooms, indulged in less media time.  That seems obvious enough.

Therefore, if we parents can preliminarily agree that turning our kids into batteries in The Matrix is a bad plan, then we need to explore what we personally think the limits should look like… and then set and enforce them.

I have struggled mightily with this issue (see The Killing Game) and I’ve thought about it from a behavioral and addictive angle (see Growing up one thumb at a time), and I currently allow violent games for my teens, but with time limits, they have laptops with airport access, so they can be in their rooms (yet they often choose the common areas), but there are no TVs in the bedrooms.

I think we’ll look back and for better or for worse come to see family life circa 2010 as everyone on his or her devices, much as an icon of life in the sixties might have been the TV dinner—complete with TV watching.  Maybe we’ll even look back and see this as the beginning of the slide… or perhaps that was the transistor radio.

If I’m honest with myself, I’m probably on devices about six hours (hour on phone, hour on email, three hours on computer blogging and reading other blogs, newspapers, etc. and maybe an hour of watching TV or film on average) and I would have guessed lower before I added it up.  So, while I’m not inclined to think we should give up our media, a good place to start might be examining our own media consumption.  When I look at my own numbers I think I might like to scale down—and especially if I transfer some of that time toward more time engaging my kids (even if it is playing an old-school game, helping with homework or getting them to come with us when we walk the dog), even if it’s a bit of a battle, it seems like a war we can’t afford to at least try to stay engaged in.

So, let’s dedicate today to greater awareness of our own media habits as well as those of our kids, striving for nourishing balance and open minds and hearts as we try to learn from, and grow within, the fast shifting world in which we dwell—hoping that we will find right thinking and right limit setting in the service of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce

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4 Responses to “Kids in media overdrive”

  1. Laurie Says:

    A tough one indeed. We have become the meanest and unfair moms around because we have put limits on his “electronics” during the week for our soon to be 11 year old son. On week-ends, once his homework is done he can play whenever he wants. On week-ends he plays non-stop and now we’re feeling we need to put limits on that as well. My son is a smart and talented fellow. During the week he’s drawing more and reading more and I see that as a good thing. What’s the balance?

  2. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    Thanks for casting the spotlight on this important and impossible question. Indeed our children aren’t the only ones being sucked into this word of gadgets and technological engagement. We all are. How are we to fashion limits for our little ones if we don’t truly understand the “thing” we are limiting, when that very “thing” has its compelling claws in us too? I applaud that you underscore awareness here over answers.

  3. chris Says:

    In our house a few limits that are not debatable are: No media during the dinner hour, no phones or texting or tv for any of us. My kids do not have tvs in their rooms. Their laptops self destructed and we have not bought them new ones. My 15 year old daughter has to turn everything off about 10 on school nights.
    My 16 year old son voluntarily stopped playing video games about a year and a half ago but he texts late at night with his girlfriend. My husband and I are on our computers too much. I fear I will be even worse 6 months from now when I get an Ipad.

  4. Beth K Says:

    Like Chris, we don’t allow media during dinner and there are no TV’s in the kids’ rooms.
    We have difficulty enforcing (and sometimes don’t enforce due to parental fatigue, etc., I’m embarrassed to say) the one and a half hour per weekday limit we set for our 8-year old. We have no specific limit for our 14-year old, but sometimes after she’s been on for 6 hours straight, we tell her to turn it off and do something else.
    I wish my kids (and my husband) would not wear headphones/earbuds so often!

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