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Study: Mobile media fill 7.5 hours of youths' day

Texting and media on cell phones and iPods

Texting and media on cell phones and iPods have increased dramatically in the 8 to 18 year-old bracket in the past five years. Credit: iStock

 A new study says that young people across the nation are spending an average of about 7½ hours a day with entertainment media, and those who use more than one source at a time push the tally to about 10¾ hours in the same period. Predictably, heavy users report lower grades.

The study released Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found the greatest increase in entertainment media time among minority youth.

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"The amount of time young people spend with media has grown to where it's even more than a full-time workweek," said Drew Altman, president and chief executive of the Kaiser Family Foundation. "When children are spending this much time doing anything, we need to understand how it's affecting them -- for good and bad."

The survey conducted between October 2008 and May 2009 among 2,002 third- to twelfth-grade students (age 8 to 18) showed the amount of time spent with media increased by an hour and 17 minutes a day during the past five years, from 6 hours and 21 minutes in 2004 to 7 hours and 38 minutes. With media multitasking, the total amount of media content consumed during that period has increased from 8 hours and 33 minutes in 2004 to 10 hours and 45 minutes.

The single factor driving the increase was the use of mobile media by ready access to such mobile devices as cell phones and iPods. During the past five years, the study found, there was a huge increase in ownership among young people in the study -- from 39 percent to 66 percent for cell phones, and from 18 percent to 76 percent for iPods and other MP3 players.

During this period, cell phones and iPods have become true multimedia devices. In fact, young people now report spending more time listening to music, playing games and watching TV on their cell phones (49 minutes daily) than they spend talking on them (33 minutes).

Three-quarters of all seventh- to 12th-graders said they have a profile on a social-networking site.

Here are some of the findings of the study:

Gender gap. Girls spend more time than boys using social-networking sites, listening to music and reading. Boys spend more time than girls playing console video games, computer games and going to video Web sites like YouTube.

Reading. During the past five years, time spent reading books remained steady at about 25 minutes a day, but time with magazines and newspapers dropped (from 14 minutes to nine minutes for magazines, and from six minutes to three minutes for newspapers). The proportion of young people who read a newspaper in a typical day dropped from 42 percent in 1999 to 23 percent in 2009. On the other hand, young people now spend an average of two minutes a day reading magazines or newspapers online.

Media and homework. About half of young people say they use media either "most" (31 percent) or "some" (25 percent) of the time they're doing their homework.

About three in 10 young people in the survey say they have rules about how much time they can spend watching TV, playing video games or using the computer. When parents do set limits, students spend less time with media. Those with any media rules consume nearly 3 hours less per day than those with no rules.

About two-thirds of young people in the survey reported the television set is usually on during meals, and just under half say the TV is left on "most of the time" in their homes, even if no one is watching. Seven in 10 have a TV in their bedrooms, and half have a console video-game player in their room.Heavy media users report getting lower grades. While the study cannot establish a cause-and-effect relationship between media use and grades, there are differences between heavy and light media users.

About half of heavy media users, defined as using 16 hours of media daily, say they usually get fair or poor grades defined as C's or lower. Just a quarter of the light users, defined as consuming less than three hours a day, report getting C's and lower.

Black and Hispanic students report spending far more time with media than white children do. There are substantial differences in children's media use between members of various ethnic and racial groups.

For the first time over the course of the study, the amount of time spent watching regularly scheduled TV declined, by 25 minutes a day (from 2004 to 2009). But the many new ways to watch TV -- on the Internet, cell phones and iPods -- actually led to an increase in total TV consumption from 3 hours 51 minutes to 4 hours 29 minutes per day, including 24 minutes of online viewing, 16 minutes on iPods and other MP3 players, and 15 minutes on cell phones.

All told, 59 percent of young people's TV-viewing consists of live TV on a TV set, and 41 percent is time-shifted, DVDs, online or mobile.

"The bottom line is that all these advances in media technologies are making it even easier for young people to spend more and more time with media," said Victoria Rideout, foundation vice president and director of the study. "It's more important than ever that researchers, policymakers and parents stay on top of the impact it's having on their lives."

The Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit private operating foundation, based in Menlo Park, Calif. dedicated to producing and communicating the best possible analysis and information on health issues.

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