WASHINGTON - The bedrooms of many American children ages 8 to 18 have become "media arcades," where two-thirds of them can watch television, half of them can play video games, and 20 percent can access the Internet on their computer, according to a study released yesterday.
The Kaiser Family Foundation study also showed that, despite increased parental concern over kids' media use, nearly two-thirds of kids in grades 3 through 12 say the television is "usually" on during meals, and more than half of the 2,000 youths surveyed said their parents have no rules about TV watching.
Only one in five kids said their parents have rules about which video games they can play. Just 17 percent say their parents check the ratings on video games they purchase; two-thirds of 7th through 12th graders - including 77 percent of boys that age - say they have played the controversial "Grand Theft Auto" game.
Interestingly, however, the kids who spend the most time with media also reported spending more time with their parents, being physically active, and engaged in other hobbies, although the study's authors indicated that the time these children share with their parents may be largely spent watching television.
The Kaiser report, titled "Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds," highlighted parents' power in controlling kids' media use. Kids whose parents don't allow them to have media in their bedrooms, who turn off the TV at meals, and who set and enforce media rules spend substantially less time using electronic media and more time reading than other children.
"What parents do can make a real difference - the environment they create, whether they allow media in the bedroom, and the rules they do and don't set," said Vicky Rideout, the Kaiser vice president who directed the study.
Donald Roberts, a Stanford University communications professor and co-author of the report, added: "When I was a kid and was told to go to my room, it was a punishment. Today, when kids are told to go to their rooms, they can visit a virtual media arcade."
The Kaiser study shows that kids ages 8 to 18 devote an average of 6 hours and 21 minutes each day to media (including books, magazines, and newspapers), or 44 1/2 hours a week. That's basically the same amount as five years ago when the Kaiser Family Foundation released a previous study on kids' media use.
Because kids today are more likely to "media multitask," however, their total media consumption actually is closer to 8 1/2 hours daily, as young people simultaneously watch television, "instant message" friends on the computer, and listen to music on their CD players, the report said.
By multitasking, kids are devoting amounts of time to "new" media such as computers, the Internet, and video games, without cutting back on the time they spend on more traditional electronic media, such as television, according to the study.
"Multitasking is a growing phenomenon in [kids'] media use, and we don't know whether it's good or bad or both," said Drew Altman, Kaiser's president and chief executive officer. "I do believe that kids' media use is one of the big public health issues of our time."
Mr. Altman and others who spoke during a morning conference called for more research on the impact of media on kids. A few hours later, a bipartisan group of senators attempted to oblige, as they reintroduced legislation that would target $90 million in federal funds over five years to develop research on kids' media use.
"In effect, by exposing our children to so much unchecked media is like conducting an experiment ," said Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.). "We have to be more aware of what children are exposed to, and encourage media habits that allow kids to be kids."
TV and music are the dominant media in the lives of American kids, just as they were in 1999. Kids spend an average of three hours daily watching TV, with the youngest children, those ages 8-10, watching the most - more than four hours daily. But there have been some changes in recent years about how kids watch TV, the study showed. For example, more kids tune into cable TV than broadcast television, with two-thirds of all young people watching cable compared to just under half who watch broadcast. That's the exact reverse of the situation in 1999.
The number of kids who have cable or satellite TV in their bedrooms increased from 29 percent in 1999 to 37 percent today. In addition, the report indicated that kids with televisions in their bedrooms watched almost 1 1/2 hours more TV daily than those without bedroom TVs.
The Kaiser report also showed that more than 80 percent of children listen to some kind of music daily, spending an average of 1 3/4 hours listening to the radio, or to CDs, tapes, or MP3 players.
Two out of three kids have downloaded music from the Internet, while almost half have listened to the radio through the Internet, the study showed.
One major change in children's media use over the last five years is the increase in the number of kids who have access to a computer and the Internet. The percentage of kids with home computers rose from 73 percent in 1999 to 86 percent today, while home Internet access jumped from 47 percent to 74 percent.
As a result, the average amount of time kids spend on the computer outside of schoolwork each day has more than doubled to one hour. Instant messaging has become one of kids' most popular computer activities, consuming an average of 17 minutes daily.
More kids also have a computer in their bedrooms today - 31 percent as compared to 21 percent five years ago, and the proportion with Internet access on their bedroom computers has doubled from 10 percent in 1999 to 20 percent today.
The majority of kids now have Internet access at home, but the digital divide persists. Eighty percent of white children have home Internet access, compared to 61 percent of African-American children, the report showed.
More than 80 percent of children have a video game console at home, and just over half of kids have one in their bedrooms.
Children do continue to read, with nearly 75 percent of children saying they read for pleasure every day. On average, kids spend 45 minutes a day reading.
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