How much TV are kids watching?

Thursday, November 18, 1999

From: The Washington Post

Children today live in bedrooms that are fully equipped media centers, spending hours watching television and listening to music by themselves with little parental supervision and almost no rules, according to a survey of more than 3,000 children ages 2 through 18 released Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The study indicates that children on average spend 5 hours 29 minutes every day, seven days a week, with media for recreation. For kids 8 and older, the total is significantly higher, 6 hours 43 minutes a day - the equivalent of an adult work week. Much of that time is spent alone.

Though other surveys have looked at children's TV viewing or music listening, this is the first one since a 1972 U.S. surgeon general's report to assess on a national basis children's use of all media, including television, music, computers and video games as well as reading materials.

Ellen Wartella, dean of communications at the University of Texas at Austin and a longtime researcher in this field, called the study "momentous.... Media are implicated in the course of childhood as never before."

"Most parents will be dumbfounded by this," said Donald F. Roberts, an author of the study and professor of communications at Stanford University. "Most parents will say, 'Not my child.' And most parents will be wrong."

And in an age when computer use is getting much attention from parents, educators and legislators, television remains the dominant medium for most kids, with music second. Children spend an average of 2 hours 46 minutes watching television each day, with 17 percent of children spending more than five hours in front of the TV.

The survey also documented the tendency for these media to be used in more private places even at the very youngest ages. Fifty-three percent of children, according to the study, have televisions in their bedrooms, including 32 percent of the 2-to-7-yearolds and 65 percent of the 8- to t8-year-olds. Seventy percent of a11 children have a radio in their bedroom, 64 percent have a tape player, and 16 percent have a computer.

Time spent on the computer lags far behind TV use, with the average for all children at 21 minutes a day outside school, including an average of eight minutes a day on the Internet. But when the study looked at the 42 percent of children who had used a computer the previous day for recreation, the average was 52 minutes, with the heaviest use by "tweens" - 8- to 13-year-olds. Roberts says he believes that computer use is on the increase but that the hype about it is just ahead of the curve. The survey was conducted between November 1998 and April 1999.

Even with this intense electronic bombardment, kids still do read for pleasure, the study found, spending an average of 44 minutes a day reading outside of school or homework.