Media consumption, like all tools, can be used to enhance our lives and for our benefit. It can also be misused to our detriment.
Recent studies show that American children and teens spend an average of nearly 8 hours per day using media. Specifically, 4.5 hours a day watching television, 1.2 hours playing video games, 1.5 hours using a computer, 30 minutes watching movies, and only 38 minutes a day reading print.
These numbers reflect use of media outside of school hours. Put another way, American children spend one-third of their life with media by the age of 18. This is a full 6 years of a child’s life watching TV, playing video games, texting, watching movies or using Facebook.
This begs the question: What is the benefit of spending six full years in childhood with TV, movies and video games?
There are theories that help us understand the impact of media consumption on children.
For example, there is the displacement effect. This explains that high levels of media usage prevents engagement in other activities, such as reading books, physical exercise, face-to-face social interaction, play or studying.
A major factor associated with obesity is the high level of sedentary behavior. High levels of media usage are negatively correlated with academic achievement.
There is also the cultivation perspective. Think of this as a sponge where beliefs, attitudes, values and world views are absorbed over time. A long-term study conducted at UCLA has asked college freshman what they value most in life and their life goals. In the 1960s, more than 80 percent of college freshman indicated that they wanted a life full of meaning, to give back to their community, and to focus on their relationships with others.
Currently, more than 80 percent of college freshman report they want to be rich and to be famous, and very few indicate a life full of meaning or a desire to give back to their community.
This drastic shift toward materialism and self-centeredness is not solely caused by high levels of media consumption, but you must consider it as a significant influence.
In my opinion, advertising attempts to shapes beliefs and attitudes that material goods lead to happiness.
So, what can families do? First and foremost, parents need to implement and enforce rules about media use. Some simple guidelines could include:
1. No-electronics time periods. For example, you can have a rule that between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., children are not allowed to watch TV, play video games, etc. They must be playing, studying or reading books.
2. Prohibit media outlets in bedrooms. Research shows a major increase in media consumption when children have a TV, computer or video-game system in their bedrooms.
3. Enforce rules about completing homework or household chores before using media.
4. Monitor and limit the content of media consumption. Pay attention to what children and teens are watching or playing, and make common-sense limits.
5. Don’t have a TV or video game system to begin with; consider other activities.
Media can be a useful tool and a way to connect with others, to learn and make life richer. It is also a tool that can be detrimental to children and adults. Knowing how to wisely use this tool is necessary for positive parenting and healthy child development.
Paul Schvaneveldt is on the faculty of the Weber State University department of child and family studies. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of WSU.