Say Hello to the Media Dependent Generation

Girls watching television

To say the results of the new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation floored me would be an understatement. Learning that young people across the nation are spending an average of about 7.5 hours a day with entertainment media was simply jarring. As if spending more than 53 hours each week with entertainment media weren’t bad enough, the study found that these youth have mastered an art form —  ‘media multitasking.’  By using more than one entertainment medium at a time, they are able to cram 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those same 7.5 hrs.

While my own youth may have fallen well before the advent of social media, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t adapt latter in life. I’ve embraced Twitter, succumbed to using Facebook, jumped head-first into blogging and dabbled with YouTube. On rare occasion, I even stumble. . .upon, that is. Even keeping my perspective in mind, there is not a shot that I would let my (imaginary) little ankle biters…errr…children, spend nearly one third of their day bonding with entertainment media.

It’s clear that times have changed. That coming home from school and playing outdoors until dusk isn’t the widespread norm. But when did things change so much that we taught children to become dependent on entertainment media?

I’ve seen my fair share of this phenomenon. Elementary school aged children on their cell phones in the grocery store. Teens on cell phones, well…everywhere. Not mention those who bring their Nintendo DS, portable DVD players, iPods and YouTube addictions everywhere with them. And that doesn’t even account for the children who spend all of their spare time in front of a television.

So, as I observe each day, what, to me, seems like the absurd, I wonder if these entertainment media loving youth could drop their addictions. That is to say, can we enable this generation to drop their media dependence. If we took away all of their toys, could they survive without abundant meltdowns and hissy fits?

While I would, undoubtedly, resist a bit if someone took away my Twitter, I could survive without it. I grew up without gaming systems, with strict television viewing rules and with the expectation that I would not be a media-loving couch potato. But today’s 8-18 year olds – I have a hunch their upbringings have little in common with mine. I was actually told to play outside and forbidden from owning a game system.

While Gen Y is undoubtedly media-savvy, is there such a thing as too much media?  Are we doing today’s 8-18 year olds a disservice by allowing them to consume entertainment media in excess?  Will ‘Media Rehab’ be the next reality television phenomenon?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

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  • Danielle, I think you're missing the point. Surely there was an outrage the first time young women were allowed to communicate freely with the outside world when a postal system was established; surely parents and elders feared for the health of their children when the telephone was invented and gabby kids spent an hour talking to someone who wasn't really there. Is there such a thing as excess? Of course there is. But there always has been, and the new form that media has taken doesn't make it any more or less harmful than the old media.

    All I'm saying is that every generation has this same apprehension that the new generation is going to be somehow broken or spoiled or made stupider or meaner because of new technology and media. If that were true, if young people were really taking to heart all the awful and self-centered things they see online or on TV, then why aren't they also, in equal measure, taking to heart the good and charitable things they are exposed to on the same mediums? No one seems to be scared of a child stumbling across Danny Brown's blog, for example, and suddenly getting the urge to donate to the Red Cross.

    It is very easy to count ourselves among the last “solid” generation, but I have faith that the next generation is going to be smarter, more well-rounded, and better able to deal with the world than we are. If you take away all that new technology and bar children from media, then we've done nothing but move backward.

  • Balance, is the key word/ingredient here. Like the food chart tells us to eat different things on a subconscious level, We need to do that with our life.

    Devote a little bit to everything…develop a sense of being well rounded. We live in a technological dependent environment, that is hard to ignore! However, that never meant that our “majority” indulgence has to deviate from old traditions.My family and I always find reasonable grounds about our daily activities.

    The current financial issues are not helping our dependence on these “distracters”.Like I said before, we need a balance to find time for meditation. I think we all are not that far gone into the deep ends :)–on a personal level, you should look inside your own home to see what you consider acceptable and make a change and then expect the world to echo it if it deems it to be mandatory.

    thanks for a great read

  • As a parent this is certainly a touchy subject across the board.

    There seems to be some evidence from various studies that some entertainment (television) can really have a negative effect that isn't present with others with long-term problems potentially arising in concentration, reading skills, etc.

    All that being said – it's the potential. Two kids being exposed to 'too much' TV could have very different outcomes. I'm used to adore bad TV (Knight Rider or Greatest American Hero anyone?) though I'm not sure I'd allow my own -lings to camp out in front of the TV as much as I did. Perhaps it just breaks the softer shells where they otherwise might go unscathed but there's definitely something to be said for limited consumption of certain forms of enter- (or edu-) tainment.

    Rarely do you hear anyone having a problem with reading skills if they spend excessive amounts of time in front of a Hardy Boys book. (Social skills maybe…)

  • Christine

    I had the same reaction as you when I first saw the results of this study. 7.5 hours a day? Outrageous! And then I realized that I spend at least 8 hours a day in front of my work computer, checking my iPhone frequently throughout the day. Then I go home and get in at least another hour-if not more- on my personal Mac, my iPhone, watching TV. I've never played a video game or had a TV in my bedroom. Even thought I spend hours in front of a computer as tech PR professional, I consider myself healthy and active.
    Do I worry about the next generation missing out on simply being able to play? Being outdoors and active? Reading a book? Absolutely. But I can't honestly look at my own life and say that media consumption automatically ruins lives.
    Balance is key and knowledge is necessary to keep the next generation, and society as a whole, happy, healthy and engaged.

  • Ashley Blasewitz

    I, too, am floored by this figure. And if I'm not mistaken, I don't think that the 7.5 hours includes texting or talking on the phone. Considering kids still have to find time to go to school and sleep within the 24 hours of a day — I don't know how they manage to do it. I'm not a parent, but considering the equally staggering childhood obesity statistics, I might uproot little Johnny/Jane from the couch or computer chair for a little old-fashion outdoor fun and unplugged face-to-face interaction. Honestly, could it hurt?

  • I remember when Paul McCartney was said to have died in a car crash, and the other Beatles covered it up with a look-alike, and campus radio spoke of nothing else for days on end. My roommate urged me (unsuccessfully) to install a reverse gear on my turntable so as to play all Beatle records backwards, looking for hidden clues such as were to be found in someof their songs. The mainstream media was oblivious to the story, notwithstanding that the Beatles were the most popular rock group to date. They didn't ignore substantive news to break in breathlessly with update after update, as they would today, as they recently did with….say…the Tiger Woods sex escapades. I recall only one grumbling opinion piece, after several days had elapsed, to the effect that the Beatles…those unpredictable kids… may have fooled us all with their practical joke, but it was a sick laugh they must be having.

    I was upset about it. I wanted more airtime for our generation. But now I see it was a protection, from adults who still felt a collective sense of responsibility toward the younger generation. Or maybe they were just fuddy-duddys out of touch with changing times, but nonetheless, it was a protection. Let kids have their own generation, let them cultivate their own interests, but not to the exclusion of all else. Construct your society so that doesn't happen. Link them with ideas of the past, ideas that have roots, ideas that have endured over time.

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