A colleague recently forwarded me a link to an article in the NY Times entitled If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online. The article reported on the results of a study conducted for the Kaiser Family Foundation on the amount of time American kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend using some form of media (defined as TV content, music/audio, computers (including mobile devices), video games, print and movies).
The key finding of the study, as reported in the article, is that kids in this age group spend on average more than 7.5 hours per day with these devices and, because they’re often multi-tasking, this equates to an average of 11 hours of “media time” daily.
A couple of findings in the study will undoubtedly be pointed to by those individuals who believe that time spent watching television or videos, using computers, or playing video games has negative consequences for youth. The study identified a correlation between poor academic performance and heavy media use (47% of those who used media more than 16 hours per day averaged C’s or less compared to 23% who used media for no more than 3 hours daily). Furthermore, the NY Times article states, “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.”
Gasp! I can hear it now: “Heavy media use causes poor academic performance and social and emotional problems,” says the Fox News commentator, ignoring what is, in my opinion, the most import line in the NY Times article:
“The study could not say whether the media use causes problems, or, rather, whether troubled youths turn to heavy media use.”
As I was reading the article, this need to distinguish between correlation and causation was nagging at me. Do these findings say something about the effects of media consumption, or – more likely – suggest that the kind of family that regulates media usage is probably highly involved and concerned in their kids’ lives? Let’s face it, in today’s society limiting your kid’s exposure to media to less than 3 hours per day requires active intervention on the part of parents and guardians.
More importantly, whether we like it or not, we’re not going to put the genie back in the bottle. I agree with the pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital Boston quoted in the NY Times article: 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.” The question is not whether kids should use media, but: given that kids will use media – how can we identify and support uses that will have a positive impact on their lives?