Media Use Jumps for Multi-Tasking Kids

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  • Kids and teens still spend about six and a half hours using various media each day, from reading books to Instant Messaging friends on the computer. But a new study says today’s children are actually consuming more media in the same amount of time by multi-tasking – using two or more different kinds of media at the same time.

    The study, released March 9 by the Kaiser Family Foundation, looked at the media use of more than 2,000 children, ages 8-18, who filled out detailed questionnaires and kept media use diaries. The study, dubbed “Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds,” found that while kids watch, read and listen to media more than they used to, the average amount of time they spend with traditional media (print, music, TV) and “new media” (computers, Internet, video games) has remained steady over the past five years at about six hours and 20 minutes a day.

    Yet today’s kids are multi-tasking their use of media by doing two or more things at the same time. For example, almost a quarter of the children surveyed are using another medium “most of the time” when watching TV. Nearly a third (30 percent) say they either instant message, watch TV, listen to music, surf the Web or talk on the phone for “most of the time” they’re doing homework.

    Easy media access makes multi-tasking simple. The “Generation M” study reveals that the bedroom has become the new multimedia center. For example, slightly more than two-thirds of kids have a TV in their room, and more than half keep a VCR or DVD player there as well.

    Parental rules ­– or lack thereof ­– also influence children’s media consumption. Though parents are concerned about their kids’ media use, more than half of the kids in the “Generation M” study reported that their families had no rules about TV viewing. Among the remaining 46 percent whose families did restrict TV watching, those who said that TV rules were enforced “most” of the time (20 percent) reported two fewer hours of media exposure per day than kids without rules. Clear parental guidelines seem rare, but they are effective when enforced consistently, the study found.

    The Kaiser study is particularly relevant given the nation’s continuing childhood obesity epidemic and growing concerns about children’s sedentary lifestyles. For more detailed information about the “Generation M” report, visit the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Web site at

    – Elizabeth A. Allen