Monday, January 25, 2010

Kids and Media:
Helping Parents Set Limits on Media Use

No doubt you read the news reports about the latest survey of kids’ media use. Last Wednesday’s New York Times headline sums up that news: If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online.

The new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation says that kids ages 8 to 18 spend more than 7-1/2 hours a day using media such as computers, cell phones, and televisions. If you do the math, that means kids are attached to technology more hours a week than most adults spend at work.

Here are just a few of the facts revealed by kids’ responses to the latest survey:
● 66 percent of kids own cell phones (up from 39 percent five years ago)
● 76 percent have iPods and other MP3 players (up from 17 percent)
● Kids spend 33 minutes a day talking on the cell phones; they spend 49 minutes using their cell phones for other purposes (for example, playing games, watching videos…)
● Three-fourths of all kids in grades 7-12 have a profile on a social networking site such as MySpace or Facebook
● The most popular media activities among kids include social networking (22 minutes a day), playing games (17 minutes), and visiting video sites (15 minutes)

Of course the information revealed in the latest survey comes as no surprise to many educators. And it should come as no surprise to media-enabling parents either. But that doesn’t mean we adults are prepared to deal with the statistics or draw the line when technology and social networking get in the way of school or schoolwork.


The survey revealed another not-so-surprising concept: rules help.

Twenty-eight percent of kids reported that their parents impose rules on the amount of time they spend watching TV. Even more parents impose rules when it comes to playing video games (30 percent) and computer use (36 percent). So it makes perfect sense that kids whose parents set limits on their use of media spend nearly 3 hours less a day using it. And kids who spend less time using media tend to get better grades.

Perhaps you will consider sharing some of those facts in your next parent newsletter? The facts might just engage more parents in setting time limits on media use. Just as most parents don’t let their children eat junk food all day long or stay out all night, the news of this new survey might get more parents thinking about the impact of media. You might even include in your next parent newsletter these tips for setting media-use limits from the folks at

Start good habits early. Establish boundaries. Start when your kids are young by restricting access to media: Turn the phone off during homework. IM, too. And keep an eye on the clock. The secret to healthy media use is to establish time limits and stick to them.

Keep distractions to a minimum. Try to help kids do one thing at a time. For older kids, make sure that social networking and chatting happen after homework is over -- or at timed intervals.

Be a role model. When kids are around, set an example by using media the way you want them to use it. Keep mobile devices away from the dinner table and turn the TV off when it's not actively being watched.


Parent Advice: Setting Computer Limits Tips
More tips from the folks at

Setting Computer Time Limits
Share this handout with parents. A Spanish version of the handout is also available.

Resources for Educators
Common Sense Media provides many resources, including Workshop kits to help you produce an event that will help parents monitor and set rules for media use at home.

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