Media Usage is a Full-Time Job

If there is one thing that is not in short supply, it is information. No matter where you turn, television screens flash their messages. Billboards on highways and busses tell us a story. Cable programming offers a 24/7 data delivery system. Twitter users imprint the planet with their up-to-the-second updates about the goings on virtually everywhere and anywhere. We are in the know at all times.

The current generation of children is being raised in a hyper-media environment that can save time…and waste it, too. They can access instant information for their schoolwork, then move on to something else more interesting. Internet, video games, mobile phones and iPods are fascinating distractions in a world gone fast.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study in March 2005, children ages 8 through 18 were found to consume eight and one-half hours of media a day. Interestingly, their media consumption was actually compressed to six and one-half hours in real-time due to their multitasking. That is to say, they would listen to their iPod while instant messaging and so on. Across seven days a week, their 44 ½ hours of media usage equals a full-time job plus overtime. On January 20, 2010, the findings for a second study were presented at a forum in Washington, DC. In just five years, children’s media consumption has increased to ten hours and 45 minutes worth of media consumed in seven and one-half hours.

A brief breakdown of actual media usage is illuminating.

According to the study in 2005, children ages 8 through 18 spend 3 hours and 51 minutes a day watching TV (which includes videos, DVDs and prerecorded programs).That number jumped to 4 hours and 29 minutes a day by 2010. Five years ago, children spent 1 hour and 45 minutes using the radio or other music devices. In 2010 it increased by 46 minutes to 2 hours and 31 minutes. Interactive media, meaning non-homework related computer usage, came in third in 2005 with just over one hour per day while it is now 1 hour and 29 minutes. Forty-nine minutes were spent on video games in 2005; it is now 1 hour and 13 minutes. Non- schoolwork related reading came in dead last with an average of 43 minutes a day. It has dropped off to 38 minutes today.

At this juncture, I would like to interject that I am a proponent of the Internet, television, print and online news outlets. After all, I work in media relations as well as in television and film. I use Twitter, FaceBook and LinkedIn like any other mere mortal, and even my ten-year-old daughter recently got her own email address. My concern lies more in the lack of discernment about what our children are actually consuming and for how long. It is so pervasive that we aren’t even aware of how much our children absorb in a day.

We may not be able to control what’s on the side of a bus or flashing on a screen in a restaurant, but we can determine what happens at home.

A few power of slow principles may help.

1. Less is more. Be clear that media usage is a privilege, not a right. Grant the privilege to watch television, use the family computer or play video games at your discretion.
2. Be a role model. If you watch three hours of television a day, it is hard to justify why your kids can’t, too. Evaluate how much is enough.
3. Use parental controls. Identify which Internet sites your children are allowed to visit. Set up restricted access on the computer.
4. Spend time with your kids. Ask them questions about which TV shows they like and why. Watch them along with your children.
5. Encourage smart integration of media into your routine. It should be an augmentation to, not a replacement of, your life.

One day our kids will have full-time jobs of their own. Maybe some of them will even work in media itself. Even as our media landscape continues to shift, our focus on what’s truly important can remain steady. The days of Ozzy and Harriet are long gone, but the love for our children is eternal.

This post was originally published on Psychology Today.

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