For the typical American child, media consumption takes up almost as many hours in a week as a full-time job, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, an independent national health-care group.
The study, titled "Kids & Media @ the New Millenium," examined a nationally representative sample of more than 3,000 children ages 2 to 18. The study’s aim was to quantify and categorize kids’ media exposure. Kaiser researchers found that the time kids spend watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, and using other forms of media, averages more than 38 hours a week outside school, almost 5.5 hours a day.
One primary goal of the study was to create a baseline for analyzing the effect of media on children, said Vicky Rideout, director of the foundation’s entertainment media and public health program.
"Hardly any week goes by without [us] hearing about the impact of the media on kids," she said. "In order to put those studies in context, we really needed to know how kids were spending their time."
While children overall spent nearly 40 hours a week using media, the study found that older kids "ages 8 to 18" were engaged by media just over 47 hours (47:01) a week, or nearly 6.66 hours (6:43) a day. Younger children, ages 2 to 7, spent 3.5 hours a day exposed to media.
The study also found that traditional media "TV, print and music" are still the dominant staples of the American child’s media diet, just as they were for the prior generation. Newer forms of media, such as computers and videogames, account for a much smaller amount of the average kid’s time.
The average child spent more than half his or her media time watching TV, videos, or movies (56%), nearly a quarter (22%) listening to CDs or the radio, and 12% with print. Contrary to popular perception, computers and videogames made up only 5% each of kids’ media use.
For the most part, the study falls in line with the research if kid-focused companies. Betsy Frank, VP-research and planning for MTV Networks, which includes Nickelodeon, said most of the Kaiser findings did not come as a surprise. Over the last three years, the network has conducted its own "MTV Networks Use of Media, Entertainment & Leisure Time Study," using a nationally representative sample that included 2,000 kids ages 4 to 18.
"The fact that they found that TV remains the dominant medium despite the buzz attached to the Internet, we’ve been aware of that for a while," she said.
The Kaiser study also analyzed parental monitoring and children’s media environments. It found that almost half of children (49%) had no TV-watching rules and more than half (58%) had the TV on during mealtime. Shared TV time between parents and children accounted for 19% of TV watching for kids 2 to 7 years old, but only 5% for kids ages 8 to 18.
However, MTV Networks’ Ms. Frank disagreed with the findings on parental supervision. "Our studies found that it was more likely than not for a parent to be in a room with the child when the TV or computer is on," she said.
The Kaiser research also found that American children grow up surrounded by media: the average kid’s home contains three TVs, three radios, three tape players, two VCRs, two CD players, one videogame player and one computer. Children’s bedrooms are rapidly becoming "media central," the study concludes, and notes that more than half of all kids had a radio (70%), tape player (64%), TV (53%) or CD player (51%) in their rooms.
Ronnie Lipton, editor of Selling to Kids, a twice-monthly newsletter for marketers that target children, expressed worries about the way the foundation’s findings could be misconstrued by the public.
"I’m less concerned with the study and more concerned with the impressions people are getting of it," Ms. Lipton said, noting how some may use the findings to bolster unsubstantiated arguments against children’s TV and media use.
The Kaiser Foundation is not explicitly asking for kids’ media exposure to be restricted, but emphasized that parents should pay attention to the quality of information.
"We are interested in working proactively with the media to communicate positive messages to kids," the foundation’s Ms. Rideout noted.
Others believe the figures encourage advertisers to be more sensitive to how their strategies affect the youth market. Holly Gross, a strategic planner at Saatchi & Saatchi Kid Connection, New York, said the Kaiser study findings were similar to those in her company’s recent Youth Media Monitor study, which examined how media fit into kids’ lives.
"The study presents a challenge to marketers because it reminds us just how much influence we really have," Ms. Gross said. "We have to use this influence responsibly."
Ann-Christine P. Diaz, Advertising Age. November 29, 1999.
Copyright © 1999 Crain Communications Inc.. All rights reserved.