Media Consumes Full Work Week for Kids, Study Finds

A new Nielsen report claims that kids are watching slightly less TV than they were 10 years ago, but another study claims that they are spending almost an entire work week, every week, with media of all kinds. That's the conclusion of Kids & Media @ The New Millennium, released recently by the Menlo Park, California philanthropic organization The Kaiser Family Foundation. TV and music are by far the biggest occupiers of kids' time, the report states, with computers and the Internet a distant second. Reading for pleasure—that done apart from schoolwork—occupies only about 45 minutes per day for 80% of the children surveyed.

The more than 38 hours per week spent with media by teens and pre-teens are in addition to the six or more hours per day they spend in school. The study found that children eight years and older spend six hours and 45 minutes per day with TV, music, and computers—a figure that was determined by a nationally representative sample of more than 3000 children between the ages of 2 and 18, and a figure approximately twice as high as the one Nielsen researchers arrived at. For the Kaiser study, more than 600 kids completed detailed media-use diaries, documenting their use of television, computers, video games, movies, music, and print media.

Immersion in media has become a "a full-time job for the typical American child," according to Kaiser Family Foundation president Drew Altman, Ph.D. "This study really underscores the importance of paying attention to the messages and the information kids are getting from the media, both good and bad."

TV is also the common American substitute for family life. The study finds that among kids eight and older, two-thirds (65%) have TVs in their bedrooms, and say the TV is usually on during meals at home. Almost half (47%) of the parents who were interviewed say the TV is on during meals. 61% of the kids say their parents have set no rules about TV watching. Parents watch TV with their kids in this age range just 5% of the time, and with younger kids (ages 2-7) just 19% of the time. 24% of kids over eight spend more than five hours a day watching TV. Listening to music—primarily CDs and radio—occupies about 1.5 hours per day for most kids.

Computer use, by comparison, is not nearly so compelling for kids as it is made to appear on TV and in print. Although almost 70% of those surveyed have computers at home, and 45% of them have Internet access, average use "for fun" among those eight and older was less than half an hour a day. Only 9% of the kids surveyed spend more than an hour per day using computers for fun. TV still rules the roost: 17% spend more than five hours a day with the idiot box. The Kaiser Family Foundation study coincides with reports by the national Centers for Disease Control and other health organizations that childhood and adult obesity are at all-time highs.