Friday, January 29, 2010

Virtually Saturated

A new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation reveals that children 8 to 18 years of age spend an average of at least 7-1/2 hours per day using some form of electronic media. That calculates to some 53 hours per week - more than the average full-time job. Furthermore, the study shows that due to multi-tasking, these kids are able to cram a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes into that 7-1/2 hours!!

This is an increase of 1 hour and 17 minutes over the past 5 years. Remarkable!!

To read a summary of the findings, you can click here.

This increase is driven by a dramatic increase in cell phone and iPod (mobile listening devices) usage. Only about 1/3 of children in that age group have parental rules regarding usage of TV, video games, or overall computer usage. TV usage has developed to the point where 2/3 of families actually watch TV during meals.

According to the summary, “The amount of time young people spend with media has grown to where it’s even more than a full-time work week,” said Drew Altman, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “When children are spending this much time doing anything, we need to understand how it’s affecting them – for good and bad.”

Media can be a tremendous source of information and direction. For the Christian families, we can be inspired by music, teaching, daily Bible reading, and devotions that we can pick up via the Internet. My own radio network is streamed live 24/7, and my radio show encompasses .mp3 downloads, podcasts, social networking, and this very blog. Computer technology can be especially helpful as students research projects and use it to assist in their studies. The Internet and cell phones can also be a powerful and enjoyable social tool. We have access to more forms of entertainment than ever before – and that’s great – in moderation!

But, the biggest concern I have about the rise in media is the lack of that moderation, and how people, especially young people, become disconnected from reality. Before the advent of so many types of communication media, face-to-face communication was the standard. Before the invention of the telephone, individuals and families gathered together and engaged in extensive visits. The phone enabled us to spend time in conversation without the inconvenience of travel – we could stay connected and build valued relationships.

The cell phone gave us the ability to connect without having to be in a stationery location. At least for me, while this can be rewarding, it can also be distracting. Now, we have transitioned from face-to-face interaction, to an electronic form of vocal communication, to…text communication.

That’s right – now we have learned to e-mail one another (and I have to admit, I would rather exchange e-mails than play phone tag in my occupation). Many have become proficient in text messaging. The Kaiser study didn’t even include the amount of time text messaging in its media usage calculations, but stated that 7th-12th graders report spending an average of 1:35 a day sending or receiving texts. Almost 75% of that age group has a social networking profile, and spend over 20 minutes a day on sites such as Facebook. I fear that we have moved from a society where we enjoyed the interaction with real people in real time in real ways to a society where we have virtual relationships with words on a screen. I think of the image of students in the same room that would rather text one another than interact in person. We have become accustomed to that, and I believe the virtual world could diminish our capability for real, nurturing relationships. I think children who spend too much time playing video games have to constantly transition themselves into the real world, and have to adjust from the passive world of video entertainment into the active world of human interaction.

Plus, in the student world, about half of those surveyed who considered themselves “heavy” media users reported making grades of “C” or lower, as compared with just under ¼ of “light” users.

So, while media presents a world of opportunity, these forms of media also provide a challenge for parents. We must be aware of what our kids are interacting with, and I believe that setting parameters is especially helpful, lest they become addicted to these various forms of media and disconnected from the world around them.
And, as adults, we must be mindful of the potential harmful effects, as well…

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