It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to realize that these youths are spending more time with media than in any other of their daily activities. Only three in ten of these youngsters have rules regarding their use of media. Often those who set rules, according to their children, fail to enforce them. Not surprisingly, the children of those parents who set rules spend “nearly 3 hours less media per day (2:52) than those with no rules.”
Parents should not be surprised at the Kaiser report; they have saturated their homes with electronic media. The report reveals that the typical American home has “an average of 3.8 televisions, 2.8 DVD or VCR players, 1digital video recorder, 2.2 CD players, 2.5 radios, 2 computers, and 2.3 console video game players.” In addtion, the television is on in many homes virtually every waking hour –– whether anyone is watching or not.
Not surprisingly, the report indicates that those youths who spend the most time connected to media have lower grades. Social networking produces “lots of friends,” but those youths who are highly connected to media have lower levels of personal happiness and contentment. And, it should be noted, that “the relationship between media exposure and personal contentment withstands controls for other possibly relevant factors such as age, gender, race, parent education, and single vs. two-parent households.”
In short, the Kaiser report is a wake-up call for parents that the digital revolution should carry warning signs. Too much of even good things can be very bad; too many of the nation’s youths are hooked on media –– they connect first thing in the morning and they don’t disconnect until parents insist on lights out.
In Children at Risk, I note that six prominent medical groups (American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Pschiatry, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Psychiatric Association) are united in warning parents about the harms to children of too much media. The Federal Trade Commission found that 80 percent of the R-rated movies that they studied were marketed (via all the media that youths use) to children under seventeen and the same is true of music and video games. The National Institutes of Health and Common Sense Media, a nonprofit advocacy group, is urging parents to “turn off the TV” because of 30-years of research indicating a correlation between greater media exposure and adverse health outcomes for children, including drug/alcohol use, childhood obesity, sexual behavior and low academic achievement.
The Brookings Institution devoted an entire issue of their journal The Future of Children to “Children and the Electronic Media.” They argued for greater pressure on the media industry from parents and other concerned members of the public. They asked, “Do we [leave] the nation’s youth to the wiles of Madison Avenue, the purveyors of smut and violence, and Internet Predators?”
It is important, no, it is imperative for parents to educate themselves and know more about programming, rating systems, and current technology in order to help their children make reasoned, deliberate choices regarding their use of media. It is up to parents and other responsible adults to connect with today’s youth where they are, “riding the airwaves,” in order to teach them to understand when negative messages are being aimed at them and offer them “positive messags that compete with and offer attractive alternatives to the negative, unhealthful, or illegal messages that others offer. This effort is not optional. It is an essential part of the task we face in rebuilding the family into the safe haven that it was meant to be for our children.