Making Sense

The Side Effects of Media

When kids spend so much time consuming media, whose messages are they absorbing?
Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of one Categories: Healthy media habits
Parenting Editor | Mom of one

Media Use in Kids Ages 8-18 Has Exploded

  • Over the past 5 years, there has been a huge increase in media use -- from nearly 6 1/2 hours to over 7 1/2 hours today

  • Due to multitasking, kids pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes of media content into those 7 1/2 hours

  • Mobile and online media use have fueled huge increases in media use

  • Three groups stand out for their high levels of consumption: preteens, African Americans, and Hispanics

  • Kids who spend more time with media report lower grades and lower levels of personal contentment

  • Parental involvement matters: Children whose parents set rules or limited access spent less time with media than their peers

Media use is up, and multitasking is the name of the game

If  kids are spending more time watching TV, playing video games, listening to music, and going online than they are with their parents or teachers, whose messages about life are they absorbing? Yours or the media's? In its third study on media's impact on kids, the Kaiser Family Foundation's study Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-to 18-year-olds (January 2010),  may leave you questioning who has a bigger influence.

Kids ages 8-18 spend more time with media than they do with their parents or in school. Clocking in at a whopping 7 hours and 38 minutes a day, that's more time than they spend sleeping! And kids aren't just watching TV or playing video games -- they're doing many things at once. Multitasking means they've figured out how to cram 10 hours and 45 minutes of media content into the 7 1/2 hours of actual time spent with media. And with multitasking comes issues of attention and retention of information.

Media matters

Our kids are creatures of media and technology. Parents must realize that all this media profoundly impacts kids' emotional, social, and physical development and that parenting must extend to the media and technology worlds. It's critical that we teach kids to understand the messages they get from popular entertainment and to use the technology at their fingertips in responsible and productive ways.

The Kaiser report points out that there's a huge jump in media in the 11- to 14-year-old age group. Kids this age pack in just under 9 hours of media a day. But when multitasking is included, that jumps to nearly 12 hours of media exposure. Emotionally, kids this age are beginning to become independent from their parents, and they look to their peers for what's socially acceptable. Media acts as a super peer -- thus, tweens and early teens aren't simply enjoying mindless entertainment, they're absorbing messages about life that may not be the ones you, as parents, want them to hear.

Parental involvement is key

One of the things the study makes clear is that parental involvement can make a huge difference in the amount of media that kids use. Children whose parents make an effort to curb media use -- either through setting up time limits or by limiting access itself -- spend less time with media. Kids with no TV in their bedrooms watch less. Similarly, use falls when the TV isn't on as background noise or during meals. Parents who impose media-related rules of time limits or content limits also have kids who are less media saturated.

Kids who use less media are happier and do better in school

One of the study's most sobering findings was that kids who spent more time with media reported lower grades and lower levels of personal contentment. Nearly half of all heavy media users said that their grades were most Cs or lower, compared to fewer than 25 percent of lighter media users. Similarly, the kids who reported the heaviest media use also reported that they were more likely to get into trouble frequently and that they were often sadder or more bored than those who were less immersed in media. The study goes to pains to point out that it couldn't establish whether or not there was a cause-and-effect relationship between media use and grades and personal contentment, but the statistics clearly showed a pattern.

The bottom line

We recommend spending some time looking at the study -- it's really eye-opening. But the bottom line is that there's some good news for parents here: Our involvement can actually have a very profound and positive effect. If we set rules and limit media access -- at all ages -- then we have a shot at having our kids have better grades, feel more personal contentment, and have better powers of concentration. Much of this is common sense: Limit multitasking, limit hours spent with media, make sure your kids get sleep and lead a balanced life, and be sure to spend time talking with your kids about the messages that they're surrounded by. Parenting in the 21st century means paying attention to everything our children are doing online, on their phones, and with their entertainment.

About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for... Read more

Add comment

Log in or register to post comments

Comments (4)

It dependes on the student. Im a heavy meida user and im gifted. (i go to an alternative school) Whats funny me and one of my close friends are heavy meida users and were the top of our classes.
Oh, you're a good student? You misspelled media twice. You didn't put a contraction when you said "I'm". You didn't use an apostrophe in your contraction of "What's". You left out a comma. You misspelled depends. You incorrectly used a parenthetical notation and you used were instead of "we're". You are a genius, you're right! Sorry for not making an exception, genius.
I must say, was that really necessary? I mean are you going back to 5th grade or something? Most teenagers, when commenting on a blog, don't use correct grammer. But does that really make you feel better about yourself to go back and correct their grammer? You must have a pretty low self-esteem if putting others down makes you feel so much better about yourself.
So what I'm saying in this piece of advice goes for everyone! You should be really careful of what you put online and text because what you say will follow you forever. Please be careful of what you post because maybe not now but later it will effect your life!