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Thursday, November 18, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Study: Kids' Media Use A Full-Time Job -- More Than 38 Hours A Week Consumed; Biggest Chunk Of Time Taken By Television

Los Angeles Times: The Washington Post

NEW YORK - American children spend the equivalent of an adult workweek - or more than 38 non-school hours per week - consuming media, and often do it with little parental monitoring, according to a study released yesterday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Although 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, video games and reading material.

"Most parents will be dumbfounded by this," said Donald 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."

The study, "Kids & Media@The New Millennium," found that despite the increasing presence of computers in the home, children still spend the largest chunk of media time watching television. Children spend an average of 2 hours 46 minutes watching television each day; 17 percent spend more than five hours in front of the TV.

"Television, especially, seems to be the command center of the culture," said New York University professor Neil Postman.

Music was the second most used medium, with listening time increasing as children got older.

Surprisingly little time was spent at a computer - about 21 minutes a day for non-school-related activities, including an average of eight minutes on the Internet. Computer use was heaviest among 8- to 13-year-olds.

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

Among the study's findings are that two-thirds of children 8 and older have a TV set in their bedroom, as do one-third of children 2-7, and that one in 10 children has bedroom Internet access.

Use of the media "has become an increasingly isolated activity," said Vicky Rideout, director of the Kaiser Family Foundation's program on entertainment media and public health. She added that the increasing "privatization" of media and the isolation that goes with it was among the most surprising of the survey results.

Among the group 8 and up, two-thirds said the TV is usually on during meals at home and almost that many say their parents have no rules about TV watching.

"Less than 5 percent of parents spend TV viewing time with kids," Stanford professor Don Roberts said. "When we cannot oversee, or are totally unaware about, what messages our kids are getting . . . that is cause for concern."

The authors of the survey created a "contentedness index" to measure how content children are with their lives. Although they report that there was fairly high contentedness across the board, the highest media users score lower on the index.

"Indicators of discontent, such as not getting along with parents, unhappiness at school and getting into trouble a lot, are strongly associated with high media use," the authors conclude.

"We've always looked at church, school and home" as the primary influences in raising children, said Ellen Wartella, dean of communications at the University of Texas at Austin and a longtime researcher in this field. "Now we have to add media to that mix."

Betsy Frank, executive vice president of research for MTV Networks, said, "You can't understand the kid just by understanding his or her media usage. . . . Kids are exposed to a lot of media; nobody is going to to deny that. That said, kids are exposed to a lot of other things in their lives, and everything we've seen says that the kids are growing up just fine."

The Kaiser study examined media use among a sample of 3,155 children ages 2-18, with parents answering questions about younger children's habits.

There was no substantial difference between the amount of time that boys and girls spend using different media, the study showed. However, boys spend more time playing video games while girls spend more time listening to music.

There was a clear divide among white and nonwhite children, with nonwhites spending nearly an hour more per day on average with media.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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