Major Study on Youth & Media: Let's Take a Closer Look
A new Kaiser Family Foundation study offers insights into young people's extensive and growing media use, but its perspective is too much that of the mass-media environment of adults' own youth.
With its fresh, sweeping look at the media lives of US 8-to-18-year-olds, the Kaiser Family Foundation's just-released "Generation M2" is a tremendous service to parents and educators – but also a subtle disservice. The latter, because it looks at kids' and teens' experience with today's media through the lens of yesterday's, the mass-media culture we adults grew up in. "The story of media in young people’s lives today is primarily a story of technology facilitating increased consumption," the authors write, even while a growing body of research shows that the youth-media story is actually more about sharing, playing with, and producing media, individually and collectively, than consuming it. But more on that in a moment. First, the findings....
1. The data
As "one of the largest and most comprehensive publicly available sources of information on the amount and nature of media use among American youth," this is also Kaiser's third such study (the first two were done in 1999 and 2004), so it shows usage trends. "Generation M2" also zooms in on individual media and devices, behaviors such as multimedia multitasking, and gender and ethnicity differences in the data. Here are some highlights:
- Nothing but more (almost): Youth media consumption has grown from 6:21 hours/day five years ago to 7:38 today, and they now "pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes of media content into those 7.5 hours a day." The breakdown: Movies and print, 0 growth; 47 more min./day for music/audio; 38 more min./day for "TV content"; 24 more min./day with videogames; and 27 more min./day on computers (though I'm not sure why computers are called media, when they're more delivery devices). Age-wise, the biggest media-use growth spurt is "when children hit the 11-to-14-year-old age group," when total media use goes up a whopping 4 hours a day (from 7:51 for kids 8-10 to 11:53 for those 11-14).
- Much more mobile: All that growth in media use was "driven in large part by ready access to mobile devices like cell phones and iPods," according to the study's press release – cellphone ownership for 8-to-18-year-olds went from 39% to 66% and iPods and other music players from 18% to 76% for iPods and other MP3 players. Of course parents know that kids spend more time doing everything besides talking on their cellphones (games, music, photo-sharing, video-viewing, etc.: 49 min./day; talking 33 min./day). This study did not consider texting a form of media use, it says, but it did find that people in grades 7-12 spend an average of 1:35/day texting.
- "Parental control": About 30% of youth "say they have rules about how much time they can spend" with various media. But children who do have rules at their house spend almost 3 hours less time with media a day than those with no rules.
- TV leads in more ways than 1: "TV remains the dominant type of media content consumed, at 4:29 a day," and 64% of 8-to-18-year-olds "say the TV is usually on during meals; 45% say it's on "most of the time"; 71% have a TV in their bedroom; 50% have a videogame console in their room. The authors did say that this latest study found for the first time that TV-viewing on *TV sets* went down 25 min./day between 2004 and '09, but TV-viewing on other devices more than offset that decline: 24 min./day online; 16 a day on MP3 players; 15 a day on cellphones. "All told, 59% (2:39) of young people’s TV-viewing consists of live TV on a TV set, and 41% (1:50) is time-shifted, on DVDs, online, or mobile.]
- Media use & grades. With the caveat that the study "cannot establish a cause and effect relationship between media use and grades," the authors write that 47% of heavy media users ("the 21% of young people who consume more than 16 hours of media a day") say they usually get "mostly Cs or lower," compared to 23% of light users. ["Light users" are the 17% who consume less than 3 hours/day.] Book reading held steady over the past five years at about 25 min./day, but magazine and newspaper reading are both down ("from :14 to :09 for magazines and from :06 to :03 for newspapers").
- Favorite Net uses: In terms of time, social networking unsurprising topped the list (74% of people in grades 7-12 have profiles), but – surprising to me – they spent only 22 min./day at it, followed by gaming (17 min.) and checking out video sites (15 min.).
- Girls & boys: Girls spend more time than boys in social sites (:25 vs. :19), listening to music (2:33 vs. 2:06), and reading (:43 vs. :33), but not by all that much. The real gap shows up in game playing and video use: console games (:56 boys vs. :14 girls), computer games (:25 vs. :08), and sites like YouTube (:17 vs. :12).
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