A Consuming Generation

Pop Quiz: How many hours do kids spend consuming “entertainment media” each week?

  1. Fewer hours than it takes to drive across the country.
  2. Equal to the number of hours they spend doing homework.
  3. More hours than you work in a week.

You Might Be Surprised

The correct answer is “C.”

According to the long awaited and highly anticipated Kaiser Family Foundation’s report entitled Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds, students between 7th and 12th grade spend 7 hours and 38 minutes every day (or 53.4 hours, weekly) taking in various forms of “entertainment media.”  

That’s more time than is required to drive from coast to coast. (Google it if you don’t believe me.) And as for homework…well, if you picked “B” it’s clear you need to do some homework.

Every week, kids spend over 53 hours listening to music, surfing the web, watching TV, taking in a movie, thumbing through a magazine, playing video games, enjoying mobile apps on their cell phone…or all of the above…at the same time.

That’s right. Since kids tend to “media multitask” – for example, watching TV while listening to music at the same time – KFF inquired about that tendency, and found that kids actually cram a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes of different media into the span of 7 hours and 38 minutes!    

That’s like an all-you-can-eat media buffet!

Hop In My Helicopter

To say that KFF’s report is massive is an understatement. It takes a couple of hours to read, and several more to process. They conducted an in-depth interview with more than 2,000 young people between the ages of 8 and 18 from middle schools, high schools, and private schools across the nation asking kids about their use of “entertainment media.” They even had 700 different students keep a week-long journal that detailed their media consumption. So, instead of trying to pick our way through this gargantuan study section by section, line by line, let’s take a look at this report from 30,000 feet up in the air so we can see the (really) big picture.

But don’t worry; we’re not going to leave anything out! In fact, for the first time ever, we’re going to feature a “series” of Youth Culture Window articles dedicated to the findings of this important study. All of it is crucial to understand, and rather than try and cram it into one really long article, we’re going to do it in four different articles.

High Altitude Observation #1: Kids’ Media Use Is Up…Way Up

When KFF performed their first study of kids’ media use back in 1999, they found that kids consumed 6 hours and 43 minutes of media each day (but were exposed to 7 hours and 57 minutes every day through media multitasking). They repeated their study in 2004 and discovered that kids took in 6 hours and 21 minutes of media each day (but were exposed to a total of 8 hours and 33 minutes every day).

A short 5 years later, kids now devote a whopping 7 hours and 38 minutes every day to taking in 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media. That’s an increase of 1 hour and 17 minutes per day of media exposure (and an increase of 2 hours and 12 minutes in total media consumption). At this point, the only activity that takes up more of kids’ time is sleep.

Consumption of media is up across the board.

Well almost.

Unsurprisingly, “print media” (stuff kids read) dropped by 5 minutes per day between this report and the last. Slightly surprising, “movies” showed no change at all, in spite of annual attempts by Hollywood to lure out more and more young ticket purchasers.

But “music,” “TV,” “computers,” and “video games” all enjoyed an increase in face time with kids during the last 5 years.  

Some point to the sheer number of gizmos kids have in their lives as the cause of the dramatic increase in their media consumption. After all…

  • 71% have a TV in their bedroom (with 49% of those TV’s connected to cable or satellite).
  • 93% have a computer at home (and 33% of them have the Internet connected in their bedroom).
  • 87% have video game consoles in their home (and 50% of those consoles are in kids’ bedrooms).
  • 76% own an iPod or similar mp3 player.
  • 66% own a cell phone (up from 38% in 2004).

From living rooms to bedrooms to vehicles to backpacks to pockets, kids have devices tucked away that keep them connected…even when they’re on the go.
Which leads to my second observation…

High Altitude Observation #2: Mobile and Online Media Are Largely Responsible for the Increase

5 years ago, most of kids’ media was restricted to a screen that had to be plugged in somewhere. Not so anymore. From cell phones, to laptops, to mp3 players, to handheld video game systems, kids have eagerly embraced the connectivity and privacy of mobile devices. Today, 20% of all media consumption (2 hours and 7 minutes, daily) occurs on mobile devices such these.

In 2004, far fewer kids had these kinds of mobile media options. Not only have more kids become huge cell phone users, but the very nature of cell phones has changed in the last 5 years. No longer are those gadgets just a means of communication; they have morphed into “media content delivery platforms.” Kids use cell phones to talk to friends, and to surf the web, take pics, shoot videos, play games, and text.  

Though KFF researched both cell phone talking and texting, neither were included in their “media consumption” report.

It was discovered that the average kid spends 1 hour and 35 minutes using his/her cell phone (for talking and texting), and thus, this hour and a half has to be added to the original 7 hours and 38 minutes.

Yes. You read that correctly.

Online media has also experienced a big increase (largely due to all those mobile, web-enabled gadgets just mentioned). Kids’ favorite online activities include:

  • social networking (22 minutes per day)
  • playing games (17 minutes per day)
  • watching online videos (15 minutes per day)

Further, 74% of all kids interviewed claimed to have a profile on a social networking site. Today’s major players like Facebook and YouTube were still relatively new when the report was last generated in 2004. And these particular increases reveal the way the web has changed in (very) recent years.

But it’s not just the web that’s changed.

Do Correlations Exist Between Media Usage and Behavior?

Many wonder if kids’ rampant use of media is affecting them. And if so, how?

For comparison purposes only, KFF divided kids into three categories: “heavy users” who consume more than 16 hours of media content in a typical day, “moderate users” who consume from 3–16 hours of content each day, and “light users” who consume less than 3 hours of media in a typical day.

They found that 47% of “heavy users” received fair or poor grades (usually C’s or lower), while only 23% of “light users” did. “Heavy users” were also more likely to admit that they were often in trouble, sad/unhappy, and/or bored. However, ironically enough, “heavy users” were also those who claimed to do the most physical exercise throughout the day (1 hour and 59 minutes, total).

Some are already using KFF’s report to draw their own conclusions in spite of the research foundation’s repeated warnings that correlations between media usage and behavior may or may not exist. KFF researchers also warn that even if correlations were found to exist, it could not be definitively argued which came first, the media usage or the behavior.

For what it’s worth, I’m convinced the chicken came first.

Managing Their Media

Knowing exactly what to do with this information isn’t simple. Parents and youth workers could potentially err on two extremes: unplug everything forever, or let media consumption run unchecked. I recommend neither.  

Dr. Drew Altman, President and CEO of KFF says, “The amount of time young people spend with media has grown to where it’s even more than a full-time work week. When children are spending this much time doing anything, we need to understand how it’s affecting them – for good and bad.”

I agree, but I’d go one step further. I’d say that we must also act on what we find.

Parents absolutely must know the quantity and quality of their kids’ media consumption.

The influence of media – though hotly debated – is quite significant. At the very least, parents should be apprised of TV shows watched, websites visited, video games played, songs downloaded, and messages texted by their kids. In the Parent Seminars that Jonathan and I do, we outline the incredible influence that media has on teens and provide practical ways to monitor and manage it.

Youth pastors should also be engaged in kids’ media choices and usage.

By and large, you have a particular and profound impact on the students who call you pastor. Be aware of your students’ media consumption. You might even consider polling your students and ask them about their media preferences and practices. Be warned: many youth pastors who survey their kids find that their private school kids and home school kids enjoy much of the same media. If their choices are poor, show them biblical truths that can help guide them into more wholesome and healthy options. Here’s one fun and powerful OBJECT LESSON to help you do that.

OK, we’ve seen the big picture. It’s now time to get out of the helicopter and get into our kids’ lives again, especially as it pertains to media choices and usage. Don’t forget to look for our future articles where we break down the findings even more specifically. We’re honored to stand beside you in the important work you do.