Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The electronic life?


A new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that modern teenagers - at least, those in the USA - are spending almost all their time electronically connected in one way or another. The New York Times reports:

The average young American now spends practically every waking minute — except for the time in school — using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Those ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day with such devices, compared with less than six and a half hours five years ago, when the study was last conducted. And that does not count the hour and a half that youths spend texting, or the half-hour they talk on their cellphones.

And because so many of them are multitasking — say, surfing the Internet while listening to music — they pack on average nearly 11 hours of media content into that seven and a half hours.

. . .

The study’s findings shocked its authors, who had concluded in 2005 that use could not possibly grow further, and confirmed the fears of many parents whose children are constantly tethered to media devices. It found, moreover, that heavy media use is associated with several negatives, including behavior problems and lower grades.

The third in a series, the study found that young people’s media consumption grew far more in the last five years than from 1999 to 2004, as sophisticated mobile technology like iPods and smart phones brought media access into teenagers’ pockets and beds.

Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston who directs the Center on Media and Child Health, said that with media use so ubiquitous, it was time to stop arguing over whether it was good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment, “like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.”

Contrary to popular wisdom, the heaviest media users reported spending a similar amount of time exercising as the light media users. Nonetheless, other studies have established a link between screen time and obesity.

While most of the young people in the study got good grades, 47 percent of the heaviest media users — those who consumed at least 16 hours a day — had mostly C’s or lower, compared with 23 percent of those who typically consumed media three hours a day or less. The heaviest media users were also more likely than the lightest users to report that they were bored or sad, or that they got into trouble, did not get along well with their parents and were not happy at school.

The study could not say whether the media use causes problems, or, rather, whether troubled youths turn to heavy media use.

“This is a stunner,” said Donald F. Roberts, a Stanford communications professor emeritus who is one of the authors of the study. “In the second report, I remember writing a paragraph saying we’ve hit a ceiling on media use, since there just aren’t enough hours in the day to increase the time children spend on media. But now it’s up an hour.”

. . .

On average, young people spend about two hours a day consuming media on a mobile device, the study found. They spend almost another hour on “old” content like television or music delivered through newer pathways like the Web site Hulu or iTunes. Youths now spend more time listening to or watching media on their cellphones, or playing games, than talking on them.


There's more at the link. I'd say the article is a must-read for parents and educators, as is the full Kaiser Family Foundation study document.

I find myself more than a little worried by this. If our young people are spending so much time in an artificial world, how will they ever relate properly to the real one? When will they get out into the fresh air, spend nights camping in the wilderness, go for hikes, raft down rivers . . . all the things we used to do as kids? And what about their relationships? If they're mostly through the medium of electronics, will they be able to form lasting, stable marriages in later life - or will their relationships be as transient as most of what we read on the Internet, with as little real value?

Peter

2 comments:

Silver the Evil Chao said...

"It found, moreover, that heavy media use is associated with several negatives, including behavior problems and lower grades."

*has a 3.5 GPA in college and a 4.3 in high school, without any kind of disciplinary problems*

I think what matters is not how MUCH time you spend on media, but whether you have the ability to put it down when you spend time with other people or when you're busy and need to work on things. Being able to put down the Nintendo DS or leave your PS2 on the shelf for a week or more is key. In high school, I played video games in some form or another every day, but still spent hours in band (as second chair clarinet, no less) and doing homework for my Honors and AP classes. In college, I'm on my computer every single day (granted, my major is Computer Science and I have an online class for Space Studies...) and bring my Nintendo DS almost everywhere, but my grades are great and I'm still thoroughly involved with the Marching, Hockey, and University Bands.

LabRat said...

And what about their relationships? If they're mostly through the medium of electronics, will they be able to form lasting, stable marriages in later life - or will their relationships be as transient as most of what we read on the Internet, with as little real value?

I met Stingray on IRC and four years of our relationship was mostly conducted through it. I guess five years may be too soon for "lasting", but "stable" our marriage certainly seems to be. And I'd observe that it's certainly possible to be in a shallow shell of a relationship without any electronics whatsoever.

I'd question the cause and effect relationship in the study; are these kids getting dumber and unhappier because they're getting a lot of screen time, or are they turning to that because they're unhappy? I know when I was a teenager, I turned more to TV and computer games when I was unhappy just because they were a good mindless distraction.