Daily Media Use Among Children, Teens Up Dramatically from Five Years Ago

With technology allowing nearly 24-​hour media access as children and teens go about their daily lives, the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth, according to a study released recently by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Today, 8- to 18-​year-​olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time 'media multitasking' (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours. 

Mobile media driving increased consumption. The increase in media use is driven in large part by ready access to mobile devices like cell phones and iPods. Over the past five years, there has been a huge increase in ownership among 8- to 18-​year-​olds: from 39% to 66% for cell phones, and from 18% to 76% for iPods and other MP3 players. During this period, cell phones and iPods have become true multi-​media devices: in fact, young people now spend more time listening to music, playing games, and watching TV on their cell phones (a total of :49 daily) than they spend talking on them (:33).

Parents and media rules. Only about three in ten young people say they have rules about how much time they can spend watching TV (28%) or playing video games (30%), and 36% say the same about using the computer. But when parents do set limits, children spend less time with media: those with any media rules consume nearly 3 hours less media per day (2:52) than those with no rules.

Media in the home. About two-​thirds (64%) of young people say the TV is usually on during meals, and just under half (45%) say the TV is left on "most of the time" in their home, even if no one is watching. Seven in ten (71%) have a TV in their bedroom, and half (50%) have a console video game player in their room. Again, children in these TV-​centric homes spend far more time watching: 1:30 more a day in homes where the TV is left on most of the time, and an hour more among those with a TV in their room.

Types of media kids consume. Time spent with every medium other than movies and print increased over the past five years: :47 a day increase for music/​audio, :38 for TV content, :27 for computers, and :24 for video games. TV remains the dominant type of media content consumed, at 4:29 a day, followed by music/​audio at 2:31, computers at 1:29, video games at 1:13, print at :38, and movies at :25 a day.

High levels of media multitasking. High levels of media multitasking also contribute to the large amount of media young people consume each day. About 4 in 10 7th — 12th graders say they use another medium "most" of the time they're listening to music (43%), using a computer (40%), or watching TV (39%).

Black and Hispanic children spend far more time with media than White children do. There are substantial differences in children's media use between members of various ethnic and racial groups. Black and Hispanic children consume nearly 4 1/​2 hours more media daily (13:00 of total media exposure for Hispanics, 12:59 for Blacks, and 8:36 for Whites). Some of the largest differences are in TV viewing: Black children spend nearly 6 hours and Hispanics just under 5 1/​2 hours, compared to roughly 3 1/​2 hours a day for White youth. The only medium where there is no significant difference between these three groups is print. Differences by race/​ethnicity remain even after controlling for other factors such as age, parents' education, and single vs. two-​parent homes. The racial disparity in media use has grown substantially over the past five years: for example, the gap between White and Black youth was just over two hours (2:12) in 2004, and has grown to more than four hours today (4:23).

Popular new activities like social networking also contribute to increased media use. Top online activities include social networking (:22 a day), playing games (:17), and visiting video sites such as YouTube (:15). Three-​quarters (74%) of all 7th — 12th graders say they have a profile on a social networking site.

"The amount of time young people spend with media has grown to where it's even more than a full-​time work week," said Drew Altman, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation. "When children are spending this much time doing anything, we need to understand how it's affecting them — for good and bad."

"Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-​Year-​Olds," conducted by Harris Interactive for the Kaiser Family Foundation, January 20, 2010.  Website: www​.kff​.org.