Digital Media Dominates Kids' Waking Hours

Teens and tweens spend an average of 7.5 hours per day playing games, watching videos, and listening to music on their mobile devices.
When they are not in school, young Americans are spending nearly every waking hour absorbed in entertainment media on mobile phones, MP3 players, and other consumer electronics, a study released Wednesday showed.

While the impact of so much media consumption is unclear, the Kaiser Family Foundation survey of young people from 8 to 18 years old did find that heavy media users got lower grades than light media users.

"The amount of time young people spend with media has grown to where it's even more than a full-time work week," Drew Altman, president and chief executive of the foundation, said in a statement. "When children are spending this much time doing anything, we need to understand how it's affecting them -- for good and bad."

The amount of time young Americans spend on entertainment media through cell phones, MP3 players, and other mobile devices has risen to an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day, according to the survey which is conducted every five years. However, because young people often use more than one medium at a time, they actually managed to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those 7.5 hours.

Driving media consumption is the ready access to mobile devices. Ownership of such gadgets has increased since 2004 from 39% to 66% for mobile phones and from 18% to 76% for MP3 players. As a result, young people now spend more time listening to tunes, playing games, and watching TV on their mobile phones than they spend talking on them.

The study cannot establish a cause-and-effect relationship between media use and grades. However, the survey did find that about half of heavy media users, defined as consuming more than 16 hours of media a day, usually got grades of mostly Cs or lower, compared to less than a quarter of light users, defined as less than three hours of media a day. Black and Hispanic children, who as a group perform poorer in school than whites, spend far more time with media than white kids, consuming an additional 4.5 hours a day on average, for a total of about 13 hours of media exposure.

The increase in media consumption has failed to draw much attention from parents. The survey found that parents restrict media consumption for only about three in 10 young people. This lack of attention could be a mistake.

"The bottom line is that all these advances in media technologies are making it even easier for young people to spend more and more time with media," said Victoria Rideout, foundation VP and director of the study. "It's more important than ever that researchers, policymakers, and parents stay on top of the impact it's having on their lives."

The longstanding problem of having children watch less TV and spend more time participating in other activities is being exacerbated by easy access to programming. While children spend less time watching regularly scheduled TV each day, the ability to watch TV on mobile devices actually led to an increase in total TV consumption to 4.5 hours a day, an increase of more than a half hour since 2004.