- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

Nearly a third of American schoolchildren say they do homework while engaging in another activity, such as talking on the phone, surfing the Internet or watching television.

And given the array of electronic devices available to youngsters, the new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, says it’s no longer punishment for a child to be told: “Go to your room.”

What’s more, the survey found that children and teens are spending an increasing amount of time using “new media,” such as computers, the Internet and video games, without reducing the time they spend with “old media,” such as TV.

Kaiser polled more than 2,000 third- through 12th-graders nationwide between October 2003 and March 2004 about their recreational or nonschool use of television, videos, telephones and computers.

The poll showed that, on average, children ages 8 to 18 devoted six hours and 21 minutes a day to recreational media. Pollsters said that constitutes more than 44 hours a week, or four more hours than a parent’s typical workweek.

“This is something we need to pay attention to,” said Vicky Rideout, a Kaiser vice president, who led the study.

The report, titled “Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds,” determined that the amount of recreational media content young people have been exposed to has risen by one hour daily during the past five years.

The last such Kaiser survey was conducted in 1999. The new one showed an increase in the proportion of youths who “multitask” when using any form of media equipment, meaning they use more than one device at a time. In 2004, 26 percent of children said they “multitask,” up from 16 percent five years earlier.

“Kids are multitasking and consuming many different kinds of media all at once. Multitasking is a growing phenomenon … and we don’t know if it’s good, bad or both,” said Drew Altman, Kaiser Foundation president and chief executive officer.

For example, 28 percent of youths said they often or sometimes go online while watching television to do something related to the show they are watching. Anywhere from a quarter to a third of children polled said they are using another medium “most of the time” while watching TV (24 percent); reading (28 percent); listening to music (33 percent) or using a computer (33 percent).

Not surprisingly, the new poll found that televisions were the devices most often found in children’s rooms.

“Two-thirds said they had their own television,” said Ms. Rideout. About half have a video game player in their room, the study found.

“Having TV on all the time prevents families from talking and spending time together,” said Bridget Maher, spokeswoman for the Family Research Council.

She also lamented that fewer than half of children said their parents have any rules for television viewing.

“Parents should have clear rules,” she said.

In 2004, 54 percent of children’s bedrooms had a VCR or DVD player, up from 36 percent in 1999, the Kaiser foundation survey found. Ms. Rideout said the more recent survey found that 53 percent of homes had “three or more” VCRs or DVDs, compared with 26 percent five years earlier.

She said these data seem to indicate that parents are giving their children their older-model VCRs, as they trade up for new DVDs.

As for phones, Ms. Rideout said the latest Kaiser survey found that 39 percent of children and teens had cell phones, while 40 percent had land-line phones in their rooms.

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