“Like the Air They Breathe — The Online Life of Kids” by R. Albert Mohler (edited for space)

Dr. Shawn Merithew

View the full length article at http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/01/21/like-the-air-they-breathe-the-online-life-of-kids/

The Kaiser Family Foundation has just released a new study on the online lives of children and teenagers, and the statistics are simply astounding. America’s children and teenagers are now spending an average of more than 7 1/2 hours a day involved in electronic media.  As the report states: “As anyone who knows a teen or tween can attest, media are among the most powerful forces in young people’s lives today. Eight-to-eighteen-year-olds spend more time with media than in any other activity besides (maybe) sleeping — an average of more than 7 1/2 hours a day, seven days a week. The TV shows they watch, video games they play, songs they listen to, books they read and websites they visit are an enormous part of their lives, offering a constant stream of messages about families, peers, relationships, gender roles, sex, violence, food, values, clothes, an abundance of other topics too long to list.”

And it’s not just that these kids are devoting 7 1/2 hours of their daily lives to media immersion — their multitasking means that they somehow consume nearly 11 hours of media content in that 7 1/2 hours of time. Over the last ten years, young people have increased their consumption and use of every type of media with one exception — reading. As the researchers make clear, the vast increase in the amount of time teenagers are able to access the media is due almost entirely to the fact that their mobile phones allow an online life that can be carried in the pocket (and in far too many cases, taken to bed). “The mobile and online media revolutions have arrived in the lives — and the pockets — of American youth,” notes the report. “Try waking a teenager in the morning, and the odds are good you’ll find a cell phone tucked under their pillow — the last thing they touch before falling asleep and the first thing they reach for upon waking.”

The report indicates that 66 percent of kids now own their own cell phone, while 76 percent own an iPod or other MP3 player. Interestingly, these kids are using cell phones as mobile media devices, rather than as telephones. Young people spend an average of only a half hour each day talking on their cell phones, but their use of these devices for the consumption of media consumes far more time.

The report also offers a portrait of the media-saturated character of the average American home. That home now contains an average of 3.8 televisions, 2.8 DVD or VCR players, at least one digital video recorder, two computers, 2.3 console video game players, and assorted other media devices ranging from CD players to radios. In an amazing percentage of these homes, the television is on virtually every waking hour.  Even as the family home is populated with various media devices, the bedrooms of America’s children and teenagers are virtually saturated with media. “More and more media are migrating to young people’s bedrooms, enabling them to spend even more time watching, listening or playing,” the researchers report.

Another important section of the report indicates that the young people who spend the greatest amount of time with media report lower grades and lower levels of personal happiness and contentment. All this should serve to awaken America’s parents — and all who care for America’s young people — to the level of media saturation that now characterizes the lives of American youth.  This important report serves as an undeniable warning that America’s young people are literally drowning in an ocean of media consumption.

There is every reason for parents to be concerned about dangers ranging from the content of this media, to the way digital saturation changes the wiring of the brain, to the loss of literacy and the reading of books, to the fact that many teenagers are far more connected to their friends through social media than to their own families in their own homes. Teenagers are forfeiting sleep and other important investments of time because they experience panic when they are digitally disengaged for even a few moments.

What is the impact of all this media saturation on the soul? Of course, that is a question that must be posed to America’s adults, as well as to our children and adolescents. At the same time, parents bear a responsibility many are clearly forfeiting. We cannot simply accept that constant media saturation is now a fact of nature and a matter of constant need. These technologies and devices have their places, but the role of parents is to establish rules that protect children and teenagers from being dominated by technology and an army of digital devices. At the end of the day, parents must find the courage and wisdom to know when to disconnect.

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