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Studies take a closer look at tech and families

Published on -4/30/2012, 9:14 AM

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This is the first article in a series on the impact of technology and electronic media on families and children.

Q: What are the trends and statistics on media use by children and youth?

A: In the Kaiser Family Foundation's third study of the media impact on youth, as reported by Common Sense Media, there has been a tremendous increase in the use of media. Those between 8 and 18 years have increased usage from close to six and a half hours a day to more than seven and a half hours a day. Even more notable, by multitasking, kids are cramming 10 hours and 45 minutes of media content into seven and a half hours.

Those 8 to 18 years spend more time with media than they do in school or with parents. Media use also eclipses sleep time. Keeping in mind multitasking is common, there are resultant issues with retention of information and divided attention.

The Kaiser study reported a large increase in media use by 11- to 14-year-olds. This age group, through multitasking, averages close to 12 hours of media use daily. People in this age group are approaching independence and are susceptible to peer influence. Media functions as a super peer at an age when kids are absorbing information rapidly.

Children whose parents set limits on media use spend less time with the media. Children with no television in their rooms watch less television. Children who have parents who set limits on media use are not saturated with media overload.

Although the Kaiser study could not validate cause-and-effect between media use and school performance, the research shows a pattern. Almost half of those children who were heavy users reported grades of Cs or less, compared to the 25 percent reporting less media use. Heavy users also reported getting into trouble more often and experiencing more boredom or sadness.

The Canadian Pediatric Society released an article on the impact of media on children and adolescents, compiling current literature on the subject. The article stated Canadian children watch excessive amounts of television, averaging 14 hours a week. The literature reported the influence of television on children and youth is correlated positively with the amount of time spent watching television.

The Canadian article also reiterated there are other factors affecting the influence of television on children. These include the developmental level of the child, individual vulnerability of the child, and whether the child watches alone or with parents. Recent studies document unsupervised television viewing, even one to two hours a day, for school-age kids, negatively affects reading proficiency.

Canadian pediatricians point out children who watch a lot of television are less physically fit, eat more unhealthy foods and tend to be more obese. Teenage girls who admire thinness might develop eating disorders trying to imitate models and actresses they see on television.

In Canada, television provides a vehicle for sex education and drug education. Teenagers rank television as their leading source of information, second only to school education programs. Kids report learning about alcohol and tobacco use from television, music videos and G-rated feature films.

Canadian pediatricians document children younger than 8 cannot understand the difference between advertising and programming. In Canada, music videos are explicit about drugs, sex and violence. They also reinforce gender stereotypes by portraying males as aggressors, females as victims, and women as sexualized persons treated in condescending ways. The Internet in Canada is similar to an enormous home library. However, editorial standards are lacking and thus the credibility of the Internet is questionable.

Researchers from the University of Buffalo and Miami University have developed a theory called Social Surrogacy Hypothesis. Derrick, Gabriel and Hugenberg found individuals suffering from social isolation watch television because their favorite shows make them feel less lonely. Conflicts with significant others can be made less painful when people turn to favorite shows.

In an article from the American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011, social media is defined as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter sites, virtual worlds, video sites and blogs. In a recent poll, 22 percent of teens reported logging onto their favorite social media sites more than 10 times a day. Seventy-five percent of adolescents own their own cellphones. Fifty-four percent use them for texting, 25 percent for social media, and 24 percent for instant messaging.

Search Institute online documents teens with profiles on social networks believe others could identify them based on information made available publicly on their profiles. In these profiles, 54 percent provided details about risky sexual behaviors, drug addictions and violent episodes with peers.

* Next week's article will discuss risks of technical and electronic media use.

Judy Caprez is an associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.

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