Kids' Media Consumption Linked to Poor Grades

Jan 27, 2010

Last week the Kaiser Foundation released a report showing that mobile technology has led to a significant increase in media consumption among 8- to 18-year-olds. More troubling is the evidence that heavy media use can lead to poor grades and lower levels of personal contentment.

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In a world driven by new technology, America's youth are at the forefront of media culture - and media consumption. 'Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds' looks at how children are using media and what effect it may be having on their lives.

The study is the third in a series by the Kaiser Family Foundation exploring media use by American youth. Data from the first two surveys, which were completed in 1999 and 2004, was used to study changes in media use patterns over time. 'Generation M2' draws from a survey of over 2,000 3rd-12th grade students conducted between October 2008 and May 2009, including 7-day media use diaries completed by a self-selected group of respondents.

Key questions explored in the survey include the types of media youth are using most, how much time they spend with each medium, if (and how) new platforms have changed the way young people consume media and what changes in use patterns have occurred over time. The researchers also explored differences between age, gender and ethnic groups and took a closer look at mobile media and how kids are using computers and the Internet.

Kaiser Foundation - changes in child media use 2004 to 2009

From 'Generation M2', page 2

In order to reflect the full media saturation of modern culture, 'Generation M2' uses a broad definition of media that includes television, video games, computers, movies, music, print and cell phones. The respondents' media use diaries also allowed researchers to account for the time youth spend consuming more than one medium, also known as media multitasking.

As indicated in the graph above, the study found a dramatic upswing in media usage over the past five years. Between 2004 and 2009, young people increased their average daily media consumption by an hour and 17 minutes, going from 6:21 to 7:38. That's almost as much time as adults spend at a full time job, except that kids are doing it seven days a week. Furthermore, because young people spend so much time media multitasking, they typically pack 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of content into those 7 hours and 38 minutes of concentrated time.

Apple iPad

Apple's latest mobile media gadget, the iPad

In the past five years, the proportion of 8- to 18-year-olds who own their own cell phone has gone from 39% to a whopping 66%. The proportion of youth who own MP3 players has jumped even further, climbing from 18% to 76%. The researchers credit this 'explosion' in online and mobile media for the overall increase in media usage. Mobile devices such as smart phones and portable media players (think iPods or handheld video game consoles) make media more accessible because it's easy to carry games, music, television and the Internet wherever you go. The study reports that a full 20% of media consumption now happens on mobile devices - and that's not counting time spent talking or texting, which the study explicitly excludes from its definition of 'media use.'

Furthermore, new types of online media have also changed kids' consumption habits. The amount of time that young people spend watching regularly scheduled TV broadcasting has declined by 25 minutes per day since 1999. However, the total time kids spend watching television programming has actually gone up by 38 minutes per day. Whereas TV used to be relegated to time spent in front of an actual television, new computer pathways such as Hulu and iTunes have made music and video accessible from any computer with an Internet connection.

Kaiser Foundation - correlation of high media use and low grades

From 'Generation M2', page 4

The bad news is that all this extra media time appears to correlate with lower grades and reduced personal satisfaction. Nearly half of heavy media users report typically earning C grades or lower, compared to only 23% of light media users. Sadly, heavy media users also report getting into trouble a lot and frequently feeling sad, bored or unhappy. Although there's no way for the study to establish a causal connection between media use and lower grades or personal contentment, the correlation did persist across gender, age and race groups. The researchers also found that the relationship persisted in both single- and two-parent households and at all levels of parent education.

Looking at the effects of parents on youth media consumption, the researchers came to what may seem like an obvious conclusion: When parents limit kids' media usage, their children spend substantially less time using media. This doesn't just mean having rules about media consumption, although children with rules do typically spend almost three fewer hours exposed to media each day than children without. It's just as important to create an environment that doesn't facilitate constant media consumption. Kids who have a TV in their bedroom or live in a household where the TV is left on most of the time spend substantially more time exposed to media each day than kids who don't.

The take home message? We can't know if media consumption actually causes lower grades and unhappier kids, but there's an undeniable relationship. Putting kids in a low-media home environment and restricting their media usage - mobile and otherwise - may be an important part of improving both their academic performance and personal lives. So let's hear a new version of an old command: 'Close that laptop, put down that cell phone and go outside!'

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