Washington, D.C., April 19, 2011— In 2008, Researchers from the National Institutes of Health and Yale University revealed the results of a detailed study based on 30 years or research into how television, music, movies and other media affect the lives of children and adolescents.
They found strong links between media exposure and problems of childhood obesity, tobacco use, and early sexual behavior. It concluded that the average modern child spends nearly 45 hours a week with television, movies, magazines, music, the Internet, mobile phones and video games, compared to the 17 hours a week they spend with their parents and 30 hours they spend in school.
That study was updated, sort of, last January, when the Kaiser Family Foundation announced results of a similar comprehensive survey of more than 2,000 families which explored the media habits of 8 to 18 year old. It found that kids consume multiple forms of media all the time, and more digital media than ever before.
In the two years between each study, the mulitmedia access and viewing went up to 53 hours, and they can spend so much time on it because they multitask, manipulating more than one media at the same time.
The Kaiser report also showed that parents do little to limit the consumption.
- In 2/3 of households, TVs are on during meals
- In 75% of households, TVs are on when no one is watching them.
- More than 70% of kids have TVs in their bedrooms
- Only 1/3 of households have media-consumption rules
It also found that those that consume the most media get the worse grades. About half (47%) of heavy media users say they usually get fair or poor grades (mostly Cs or lower), compared to about a quarter (23%) of light users.
Further, it concluded that one of the drivers of the increased media consumption is mobile device ownership. Over the past five years, there has been a huge increase in ownership among 8- to 18-year-olds: from 39% to 66% for cell phones, and from 18% to 76% for iPods and other MP3 players. During this period, cell phones and iPods have become true multi-media devices with youngsters spending more time listening to music, playing games, and watching TV on their cell phones than actually talking on them.
Further, the survey found that Black and Hispanic kids consume 4.5 percent more media than whites.
Most may see results like these and poo poo on them, believing they are an indication of a lost generation of kids that is lazy, cannot function without media, is not attentive, and less productive than previous generations.
However, there is an alternative way to analyze this data. There is missed opportunity here.
Just last week, the owner of For Harriet blogshared with me a recent post, “Where are the Black women in tech” in which she interviewed a young African American woman, Tiffani Bell, whose family used to chide her about the amount of time she spent on her computer.
What she was doing was programming and mastering internet codes and language. Bell went on to found her own start-up and develop an application Pencil You In.
The lesson from Bell is that we maybe ought to be figuring ways to channel our children’s love, understanding of and fascination with digital media so that more of them turn to careers in the digital, online and tech field.
Economists and forecasters say the growth industries which will enable the economy to surpass worldwide competitors is technology. Given this knowledge, we need to be figuring out ways to harness our children’s interest in technology and digital media and get them to a place where they are creating content, creating applications, developing programs and being producers and not just mere consumers of technology.
It shouldn’t be a tough sell to get them there either. Children are curious and not afraid to take advantage of technology available to them. They are using tech at earlier and earlier ages too and are learning digital skills that some adults over 45 do not necessarily have. For example, in my household, our 3 year old daughter knows how to manipulate a mouse and navigate her favorite online educational game site.
My 6-year old types in his own Google searches and watches cartoons on YouTube about dinosaurs that are not available on broadcast television. My 8 year old produces videos, and has had his own YouTube channel since age 6 complete with fans and subscribers. The other day, I caught him trying to configure a network adapter to connect his video game console at home with an online game.
He didn’t think to ask us how to do it, just underwent steps to figure it out on his own. Talk about problem-solving skills and resourcefulness.
My husband and I are part of the exception, and not the norm, according to the Kaiser Family survey in that we limit TV and video games during the school week, during meals and do not have TV in the kids bedrooms, but we still recognize the value in media comprehension and the importance of kids knowing how to maneuver technology.
The key, of course, is moderation and limiting exposure to make sure kids also read and do their schoolwork . However, early preoccupation with technology and media may be clues that a child may have a future in the media or technology field.
Like the President said during his budget talk at George Washington University last week, countries like China, Korea, and Brazil are funneling money into educational programs to help their young kids start figuring out how to learn code and develop algorithms related to digital applications.
There is no reason why we cannot take similar steps in the United States too as well. This is probably happening already somewhere, but ideally schools would partner with private companies and organizations and introduce roving clinics to schools across America - and not just those with the best resources either.
Showing kids how to make their favorite video game work and teaching them the basics of application development may spark some new interest among them. Similarly, to motivate them to consider a future in the technology industry, getting successful digital entrepreneurs, tech superstars and media masters in front of them through guest visits to schools to share their stories would work wonderfully.
When not possible, introducing these examples through video in as many schools could also help.
Once we are able to pique the interest of at least some, we can connect our youth’s fascination and passion for digital media into something that could benefit our growth and economy for the long run.
Imagine if more children got into innovative growth fields how better off we would be.
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