Real Media Riffs - Saturday, Jan 27, 2007

PEER-TO-PEER PRESSURE -- Tobacco. Alcohol. Even food. The next big media category to face a backlash over its youth-oriented marketing will be, well, media. Okay, so media has always been under an acute focus when it comes to kids, but most of the attention has centered on regulated media like broadcast TV, radio and magazines - media that dominated our childhood, but which are having increasingly less relevance and impact on children today. Sure kids still consume mass quantities of mass media, but their biggest influence increasingly is social media that still is fundamentally unregulated and well below the radar of most policy-makers and parents alike.

"Kids spend more than 45 hours a week with media, including television, the Internet, iPods, movies, cell phones and video games. That's more time than they spend with their parents or in school," cautions advocacy group Common Sense Media and the Aspen Institute, who next week will play host to a group of some of our industry's deepest thinkers at a summit exploring the consequences a 24/7 media culture is having on American children.



The summit, dubbed, ""Beyond Primetime," will take place Monday night and all-day Tuesday at the Time Warner Conference Center in New York. The opening night discussion will focus on "The Media As Parent," but we think a better description might be, "The Media As The New Peer Pressure." Think about it? If you have children, how much time do you actually spend interacting with them. Be honest. Now subtract the amount of time that interaction involves zoning out in front of the TV set, or chomping uncommunicatively through family meals. Now halve that result again for all the time you are with them, but they're actually plugged into one or more media devices. What's the real net of your quality time with your children?

Now add in the amount of time they are directly influenced by other positive adult role models, teachers, coaches, clergy, youth program leaders, etc.

Now compare that with 45 hours per week suckling up to the media teat. Okay, so much of that time is still spent with regulated media. But have you seen the regulated media lately? And sure, a lot of the time is spent with a parent present. That's not the part that concerns us. What concerns us is that unstructured media is becoming the predominant point of contact for our children, and for the most part, we have no idea what those connections actually are.

We're not saying this is all a bad thing. It's just a very different thing from the way previous generations grew up. Actually, it was Shawn Gold, the marketing chief at, who explained this phenomenon best to us not so long ago. Kids today don't have the same kind of personal space and public freedoms that we had growing up. They don't hang out unsupervised at the park, in the schoolyard, or on the street corner the way we did. So social networks like MySpace and Facebook are becoming their new personal space. It just happens to reside online.

But social media is accelerating at such a fast pace, and is taking on such a diffused, frontier-like culture that we may not understand the societal implications and the impact on youth culture until we are well past the next point of no return.

So maybe, just maybe, it's not such a bad thing to step back and talk about it a little. We know we'll be listening closely next week when the media gurus discuss such topic as, "Should Media be Regulated When it Comes to Kids?," "Keeping Kids Healthy in a 24/7 Media World," "Does the Internet Change Everything?," and "Good Media for Kids Can Make a Difference."

Don't get us wrong. We don't think anybody is about to stuff Pandora, or Kazaa for that matter, back in a box. We just think it's a good idea for people to step back every once in a while to reflect on where we're at. And especially, on where our kids are at.

From what we can tell, they're kind of all over the place. And yeah, some of them are hanging out in some pretty despicable places, and that's tragic, but it's not the really big problem. The bigger problem, we think, is who they might be hanging out with. And the amount of pressure their digital peers are exerting on them.

Next story loading loading..