Man, what a grind.
Kids are putting in serious hours: before school, after school, while doing homework, instead of going outside to play. ... They're watching television. More than 28 hours every week.
That's according to the latest data from the Nielsen Company. The new numbers represent yet another increase in media consumption. And if you add in all media -- video games, cell phones, computers -- today's kids are working the equivalent of a full-time job consuming media: 7 hours and 38 minutes every day, on average, according to a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Pre-schoolers, aged 2-5 spend 32.5 hours a week in front of the television, according to Nielsen, watching TV directly, watching shows recorded by DVR, watching DVDs or playing video games. Older pre-teens, aged 6-11, are still spending 28 hours, a decrease that Nielsen chalked up to this: "They are more likely to be attending school for longer hours." Read another way, school and homework still only manage to cut out 4 hours of TV-watching from their schedules each week.
If you add in the use of portable devices, according to the Kaiser study, the time spent skyrockets to more than 53 hours a week. (Add another 1 hour and 25 minutes if you consider texting.) Part of the reason is the proliferation of personal electronics that have access to the Internet and TV programming (a majority of kids now own cell phones, MP3 players or both). And part has to do with "media multitasking" since the TV is left on during dinner in most U.S. homes, and the MP3 player stays plugged into ears during homework.
Not surprisingly reading rates have declined. Kids still spend about 25 minutes a day reading books, but they spent 5 fewer minutes reading magazines (to 9 minutes daily) and 3 fewer minutes reading newspapers (to just 3 minutes daily), compared to five years ago.
And, no doubt, they're spending less time outside ... at least, less time outside looking up from their cell phones. As the National Wildlife Federation's Green Hour campaign points out, all this time indoors in front of a screen is coming at the expense of unstructured play outdoors. This phenomenon has been called variously nature deficit disorder and videophilia, and there are symptoms to the disease, including obesity and possibly ADHD. Unstructured outdoor play also has been shown -- intuitively and by some science -- to have tangible benefits: It's unstructured time that helps kids develop problem-solving skills, self-reliance, creativity ... not to mention a sense of connection to the outdoors. Not only is a connection important to them -- who would want to sacrifice a sense of wonder about a beautiful vista or a creepy crawly? -- but to society, since the generation of children watching all that television will one day be in charge: If they don't care about nature now, they won't preserve national parks, wilderness or farmland tomorrow, the thinking goes.
That's why the National Wildlife Federation is urging parents to schedule in one "green hour" a day -- enough time for a child to explore outdoors. It's also why The Daily Green teamed up with the group to offer these 30 ways to get your kid to play outdoors. Also look for a new book, The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids (Trumpeter, $17.95), due out in March 2010.
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