Friday, January 29, 2010

More than ever, kids prefer screens to books and mags

The Kaiser Family Foundation has produced Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-year-olds, a study that interprets and presents data from surveys conducted in 1999, 2004, and 2009. Anyone who works with youth - or even with college-aged kids - needs to read this study all the way through, as it gives us some important insight into what kids are doing in their free time.

And it's not reading books and magazines. Of the average 7 hours and 38 minutes kids spend each day (!!) with media (TV, music/audio, computers, video games, print, and movies), only 38 minutes are spent with print media - down from 43 minutes in 2004 and 1999. However, it's mostly magazine and newspaper reading that has declined; time spent reading books has increased from 21 minutes a day in 1999 to 25 minutes a day in 2009.

But they're spending almost 4 1/2 hours a day watching TV shows. Compared to that, 25 minutes with a book is pretty small potatoes.

It's no surprise to us literacy advocates that "youth who spend more time with media report lower grades and lower levels of personal contentment" and there is also proof that parents can have a positive effect on their child's habits - "Children whose parents make an effort to limit media use...spend less time with media than their peers." Set some limits, parents!!

Another no-brainer is that "...young people who are heavy readers (those who spend an hour or more per day with print media) are substantially more likely to say they earn high grades than those who are light readers (those who report no print reading on a typical day)."

Depressingly, "reading for pleasure continues to be the only media activity that decreases as children grow older."

But here is something interesting and maybe even heartening - "It does not appear that time spent using screen media...displaces time spent with print media. Young people classed as heavy screen media users (more than 10 hours daily) and those classed as light screen media users (less than two hours daily) report identical amounts of daily reading (41 minutes)." The only difference is for kids who have TVs in their bedrooms or who live in homes where the TV is left on in the background - they read much less than kids who don't have TVs in their bedrooms and/or whose TVs are often on. Parents - take those TVs out of your kids' bedrooms and keep the TV off during meals and family time!

What that says to me is that books are not competing with non-print media - those who are interested in reading AND computers/TVs/music are going to find time to do both.

It's just that we would like kids to spend more of their time reading books!

For some insight into just why we need to keep focusing on books and reading, starting at birth, read Jumpstart's America's Early Childhood Literacy Gap. It states in no uncertain terms that:

Most kids who start kindergarten lacking basic early literacy skills do not ever catch up to their peers academically. Poor literacy skills in school are linked to high drop-out rates and even the likelihood of going to prison.

Poverty is the single best predictor of a child's failure to achieve in school, in no small measure because children from low-income homes have limited access to books and early education programs, especially in the home but also in the community.

Early intervention is essential.

And here is a trumpet call to all those who are concerned with the future of our children:

"Simply stated, the most successful way to improve the reading achievement of low-income children is to increase their access to print. Communities ranking high in achievement tests have several factors in common: an abundance of books in public libraries, easy access to books in the community at large and a large number of textbooks per student."

Good libraries and good librarians CAN make a difference in the lives of children and their families. Get to them when they're young, encourage parents to read to kids, and continue to support children's information and pleasure-reading needs all the way through their school years. The goal? Children who can read fluently and effortlessly, whether it's for school or for pleasure.

Sure, kids will continue to watch TV, listen to music, and socialize up a storm on the Internet. But maybe they'll read books more often, too - for the sheer pleasure of it.


  1. I am being a Good Parent right now by using the computer myself, therefore limiting the time my boys spend playing computer games...

    I dunno how people manage to count how much time people spend reading anyway. Self reporting is so tricky. I have no clue how much time anyone in my family spends reading, and I live with them...

  2. I think my 15-year-old is addicted to Hulu. But she is also addicted to big, fat fantasy books (yay!). So as long as she gets her homework done and keeps her room tidy...