The Kaiser Family Foundation released a study this week that said 8- to-18-year-olds are spending more than seven and a half hours a day listening to music, watching TV, and being entertained online -- more than 53 hours a week -- a number that either scared the hell out of parents or had them shaking their heads in dismay. In a move clearly designed not to comfort parents, Nielsen -- which makes money measuring TV audiences -- took issue with the only potential bright spot in the study: that young people are watching less TV.
"Our data, which are based on observed behavior measured by digital meters, show that TV viewing for this group is actually up, not down as Kaiser found," said a Nielsen spokesperson defiantly.
It is something of a pointless argument, since you need only look around your own home to know that kids are hardly ever paying attention to any single electronic device (read: TV); they are multitasking, paying only marginal attention to TV. Thirty-nine percent in the study said that "most of the time" while watching TV, they're simultaneously using a computer, reading, playing video games, texting or listening to music. Another 29 percent said they do this "some of the time." Moreover, kids now consume TV content online (24 minutes), on an iPod or other MP3 player (16 minutes) and on cell phones (15 minutes). Which in general means ignoring commercials.
Nielsen might also take note that it could well be that nobody else is watching the big screen either. When Kaiser asked how often TV is usually on in the home "even if no one is watching," 45 percent said it's on "most of the time."
In total, 8-18s are spending:
More than an hour a day playing video games
Nearly an hour-and-a-half on a computer
More than two-and-a-half hours listening to music
Nearly four-and-a-half hours watching TV
If you have a male teenager in the house and can limit his time spent in front of a video game to just an hour a day, you need to book yourself on Oprah and tell the rest of us your secret.
If all of this is troubling, we only have ourselves to blame, since we run out and buy our kids the newest iPods and upgrade their phones each and every time their plans expire. The increase in media use, says Kaiser, is driven in large part by ready access to mobile devices like cell phones and iPods. Over the past five years, there has been a huge increase in ownership among 8-18s: from 39% to 66% for cell phones, and from 18% to 76% for iPods and other MP3 players.
Perhaps the worst bit of data in the entire study is that 71 percent of the kids surveyed reported having a TV set in their own bedroom. Forty-nine percent have cable or satellite TV service there, 24 percent have premium channels, and 13 percent have some sort of DVR. The rule in our house is that you can have a TV in your room if you make straight As. No one has a TV.
Finally, in a totally inexcusable finding: 64 percent of respondents said the TV is "usually on during meals." Isn't that when you are supposed to talk to your kids about how their day was and what makes them happy or sad, or at least discuss what's happening in the news? I am sure that this is not the first indicator of the End of Days and that our kids are learning as much, if not more, than we did with dead tree books and spending time in a library. If you scanned the brains of kids in that age range, you'd find that by and large they are insane -- and not only have control issues, but have a hard time setting limits.
That is why you are there. Carpe Diem.