Report Shows Media Play Enormous Role In Children’s Lives

By Andrew Trotter — November 24, 1999 2 min read
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Children spend nearly the equivalent of an adult workweek—38 hours—awash in media ranging from television and movies to computers and magazines, according to a study released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation.


Read the report, Kids & Media @ the New Millennium, from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The report requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.

And that’s not counting their use of media in school or for homework.

The report, titled “Kids & Media the New Millennium,” was based on in-home interviews and written questionnaires and diaries completed between Nov. 10 of last year and April 20 of this year by a nationally representative sample of 3,155 children ages 2 to 18, or their parents.

Ellen Wartella, the dean of the communications program at the University of Texas in Austin, described the study as “momentous.”

She said the study establishes that “media aren’t a peripheral aspect of childhood, but a very central aspect of the world and the life that children grow up with.”

On a typical day, children in the study spent five hours and 29 minutes using media. Children ages 8 to 18 spent almost seven hours; 2- to 7-year-olds spent three hours and 34 minutes.

Boys and girls showed little difference in the amount of time devoted to media. Minority children spent six hours and three minutes a day using media, compared with five hours and eight minutes spent by white children.

The last comparable study of children and media was a 1972 report by the U.S. surgeon general that concluded there was a link between televised depictions of violence and aggression in children.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, based in Menlo Park, Calif., is a philanthropy focused on health-care issues.

On Their Own

Another chief finding of the Kaiser study is that much of children’s media consumption is unsupervised by parents. Children today often have televisions and computers in their bedrooms, out of parents’ view.

“Media for kids is a private activity [unlike in the past], where the television set was the national hearth, the focal point in the living room around which families congregated,” Ms. Wartella said.

Television dominated children’s media mix, taking up an average of more than 19 hours of a child’s typical week. Next was music, at 10 hours; reading for pleasure, at five hours; using computers for fun, at 21/2 hours; and playing video games, at just over two hours.

Experts said the data elevate the importance of questions about the content of various media and its influence on children.

“Everyone is going to recognize there is a great deal of content that is inappropriate for children,” said Dale Kunkel, a professor of communications at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Schools could use the data to argue for more use of media-literacy curricula, he added.

Donna Mitroff, the senior vice president of educational policies and program practices at Fox Family Worldwide, a television production company, agreed.

“I don’t know how anyone alive at this time in history could say that we don’t need to help children have literacy about the media, in the same way that we want them to have literacy about books and great works of literature,” she said. “It’s how people get their information.”


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