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Did Your Family Media Rules Slack During This Past Summer?


Summertime was a season known for long lazy days of playing outside and spending time with friends at the beach, pool, playground or some other wondrous location where fresh air and space abounded. However with more dual-working parents and single parents, more kids are finding those carefree days are being filled with the typical year-round activities -- television, Internet surfing and video games. In addition, according to a recent survey from The Harris Poll, the usual family media rules are often stretched or tossed aside during these hazy, carefree days.


The online poll surveyed 2,950 adults between August 5 and 9 in 2011. The question asked was, “Do your children consume more or less of each of the following types of media during the summer than during other times of the year? By summer, we mean the period of time between Memorial Day and Labor Day”. Nearly half of the parents said their children watched more TV (49%) and played video games longer (46%) in the summer. Nearly a quarter of the parents felt their children used “much more” of these types of media during the summer. Only roughly 1 in 6 (16% for television and 13% for video games) said their children consume less media in the summer. Similar trends were indicated for Internet use and movie watching.


Not surprising, rules limiting media use in homes saw similar changes during the summer season. 57% of parents allowed their kids more freedom to consume media while only 26% of parents said their media rules did not change during the summer. Also interesting was parents identifying themselves as living in the Northeast of the country were significantly more likely to not slacken on media use rules and they were also more likely to have media use rules in their home in the first place.


The survey also asked at what ages were their children provided with various types of media devices. As has been indicated in other surveys over the past decade, the trend to greater access to electronics for children is continuing, with handheld gaming devices and portable music players topping the list as first electronics provided to children. However, Number 3 on the list is a television in a child’s bedroom, with 11 percent of parents saying they introduced a TV into the bedroom of their children prior to their fourth birthday. Looking at the children in this survey ranging from birth to 11 years of age, 45% -- almost half -- were initiated into the media world with a television in their bedroom.


Over 11 years of age, smartphones and computers become the most popular media items to be introduced to kids. (While it is statistically tiny, 2% of parents claim their zero to three year old children also have a mobile phone or smartphone. I’m sure the bills coming from these devices would be very interesting...). Finally very new devices like tablet computers and eReaders are beginning to show up on the list, peaking at 8 to 11 years of age for first use with kids.


This sea of numbers is indicative of how our children’s lives are changing. I’m sure the reasons for this are many, in addition to the alterations in family employment and structure I have already mentioned. Personal electronics are smaller, cheaper and more portable. Perceptions of a decrease in neighborhood safety is likely another contributing factor, as is social isolation. I’m sure my neighborhood is much like yours in that kids used to run out the front door to play in the field across the street. Now parents load them into minivans to play with other kids from every corner of the city.


Of course this survey may not be accurately reflecting reality, a fact that even Harris Poll reminds us is an ongoing problem that is especially evident with volunteer, online responders. They have adjusted the numbers to account for various factors, including the composition of the average adult Internet user and their propensity to be online. In short, the parents responding to this online poll offered to do so, and obviously would have some familiarity with using a computer and communicating in a digital domain.


Yet, my gut tells me there is some truth in these numbers. The good news is we now have nine months to prepare for the next session of sun and fun and during that time perhaps we need to come up with a few new ideas that will encourage face-to-face interaction and not require a battery and illuminated screen.

Rod Gustafson


Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews® - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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