08 Jun Watch out. It may be consuming your family
By Marissa Simpson
There was a time in high school when I found myself overwhelmed with academic and athletic demands, as many high school students do. I remember my frustration when my dad would call me out of my bedroom to spend time with the family, whether it was eating dinner, watching a movie, or playing a game. “Dad,” I whined, “I have so much homework to do, I don’t have time to just hang out and chit-chat.” So, after a few minutes of me dragging my feet, my parents would let me go back to the isolation of my bedroom and work diligently on my homework.
At the end of the month, though, there was some question as to how diligently I had actually worked. My parents received our family’s cell phone bill and found that, despite my unbelievably busy schedule which had prevented me from spending time with them, I had managed to squeeze in time to send/receive almost 10,000 text messages on my phone. Assuming that each time I read or responded to a text it took about 5 seconds, I had spent close to 14 hours on my phone that month. I’m sure many readers are wondering the same thing my parents were: “You didn’t have time for your family, but you had time to spend 14 hours on your phone?”
How time-consuming is it, really?
Mine may sound like an extreme case, but when one looks at the statistics of media use in America today, he will see how mild my example actually is. One study found that the average American spends 34 hours a week just watching television, which is about 136 hours a month. Another study found that the average American teenager sends/receives 3,339 text messages a month, which, if we use the 5-second estimation from before, equates to another 5 hours a month. Research also found that the average American spends 13 hours a week on the internet, which is another 52 hours a month. So, the grand total for three of the most basic media sources is 193 hours a month, out of about 720 total hours, or 27% of the entire month. So 14 hours doesn’t sound so bad anymore, does it?
Social media is another trend that shows no sign of slowing down. 95% of American teenagers (ages 12-17) use the Internet, and 81% of online teens use some kind of social media. But it’s not just the teenagers. 58% of all American adults (ages 18+) now use Facebook, and 70% of Facebook users engage with the site daily; 45% engage with it multiple times a day. Think this means the young kids are safe? One study led researchers to the conclusion that “kids spend more time in front of a screen than doing any other activity besides sleeping.”
The media monster doesn’t just hide under the bed anymore. He’s getting bigger.
What does this mean for the family?
It’s obvious from the research that Americans like their media. But what many people don’t know is just how damaging media use, especially media overuse, can be on individuals and families.
Dr. Jenny Radesky, who works in developmental behavioral pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, conducted a study in which a team of researchers observed 55 caregivers eating at fast-food restaurants with their children. Of these 55 adults, 40 of them used a mobile device at some point during the meal, and 16 of them used a mobile device throughout the meal. This same study referenced Dr. Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry, who said:
“Eating meals with parents has been linked to a variety of benefits. Children who have regular sit-down meals with family are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol or get pregnant as teenagers. They earn better grades. These benefits don’t accrue just because parents and children are munching carrots at the same time; they happen because the family is communicating.
Children who constantly see their parents playing with smartphones at the dinner table can feel neglected, insecure or not worth your time. You’re going to miss a lot of those benefits of eating meals together.”
When media is being accessed constantly, not just at meal time, there is no place for children to gain these important benefits. This is just one example of how family relationships suffer when media takes over, and can be applied to all relationships in the home. Refer back to my texting fiasco in high school. I thought I had no time for family and that I barely had time for school work. But, had I spent those 14 hours studying and/or interacting with my family, I probably would have breezed through school, and my family wouldn’t have felt so neglected. Imagine the damage being done with that average 193 hours of media time.
Harmful Media Messages
The APA estimates the average child will witness 100,000 acts of violence before finishing grade school, which can be scary when you realize 4-6% of crime is directly linked to the media’s influence. This same source observed, “during a typical week, teens can see about 57 sexual behaviors on afternoon television and 143 during prime time.” Sex and violence are becoming increasingly common, and the younger generation is seeing them as increasingly normal. In the words of AEI’s Besharov, “when it comes to Hollywood’s portrayal of easy sexuality for teens, every little bit helps, and every little bit hurts. If it changes the norm among teens, then as a society, we should be concerned.”
Young people are also under the false impression that the internet is private, and don’t understand that “what goes online stays online.” This is becoming an increasing problem because they are posting inappropriate photos, videos, and messages, and it is coming back to haunt them and hurt them as they try to apply for college and various jobs. It’s also making them easier targets for marketers and fraudsters.
Media exposure that is purely for entertainment, especially when it is violent, is also associated with poor cognitive development and poor academic performance.
Parents, Wake Up!
All good parents want what is best for their children. I’ve never met a decent mother or father who hopes their child will do poorly in school, become sexually promiscuous, have trouble developing meaningful relationships, or become consumed by watching violence. That would be absurd. But whether we want it or not, our habits are pushing our children, families, and society closer and closer to these patterns. By allowing or tolerating the media so many of us do, we are making these things normal; we are setting up the trends that will influence our loved ones, and that will influence the world.
It’s time for parents to decide what it is they really want for their child. Is the smart phone you gave your daughter for Christmas really doing her a favor? Is sticking your 10-year-old in front of the TV after school really a better option than taking time to talk and play with him? Sure, it’s easier. Media is easy; mindless distraction always will be. But it isn’t worth it. The monster continues to grow, and the bigger we let him get in our homes, the harder it will be for us and our children to escape from him.
Put him in a cage now. My parents did. They found a way to automatically shut off my texting at 11:00 p.m. on weeknights, checked up on my activity on social media, monitored what I watched on television, and limited my access to media in general, and I am forever grateful for their efforts. Parents, we need to control how much this monster grows and how often he gets to see our children. Take the reins as a parent and help steer your home away from harmful habits and towards more productive paths.
Marissa Simpson is a Marriage and Family Studies major at Brigham Young University-Idaho. She has been married to a wonderful husband for a year and a half, and is a new mother of twins. She loves playing sports and being outdoors, but also enjoys reading and watching movies.