Do you want to know what is the most important story in the newspaper today? Hopefully, you still read the newspaper. It won’t be found on the front page. No, it’s not the story of the Republican, Scott Brown, Senatorial victory in Massachusetts over the once-favored Democrat, Martha Coakley. The most important story can be found somewhere in the middle or back section of the newspaper. It’s an inconspicuous three columns titled, Kid’s Spend Nearly Eight hours a Day on Electronic Media.
You might be asking yourself, “Is that really news”? Absolutely. The problem is nobody is paying attention. The story is based on a new study from the folks over at Kaiser Family Foundation. They have been tracking this type of data for years. What they have found is that today’s kids are now spending 53 hours a week in front of some type of electronic media. That includes cell phones, iPods, video games, and computers, which averages out to 7 hours, 38 minutes per day.
Just ten years ago, the average was 6 hours, 19 minutes. I’ll do the math. That’s 79 more minutes of free time each day listening to music, watching TV and movies, and playing video games. The study also found that 20% of kid’s media now come from mobile media devices. And that’s likely to increase in the years ahead. Vicky Rideout, who is the director of the study program, states, “Electronic media is part of the air that kids breathe.” I’d say that’s the understatement of the decade.
The findings are based on research from over 2,000 participants ages 8 – 18. There’s plenty of other findings, but the real question is, “What does it all mean?” Or perhaps maybe we should ask, “Does anybody really care?” We all know that our kids are spending a tremendous amount of their time consuming some form of media every day.
I’ve spent 25 years researching the topic of how media influences our culture and youth. What I have found is that most people are somewhat indifferent. Deep down they understand there’s a problem. Sure, they find some things in the media troubling, but they are just not sure what to do. So, in many cases, they do nothing.
More importantly, how are Christian leaders and parents responding? The response so far has been disappointing. Why? Because for the most part the Church has its head stuck in the sand. We don’t want to admit that the media has this type of power, control and influence. We all are consumed with electronic media. And if we address the issue with our kids, then we must admit that we are in the same boat. And that makes us uncomfortable.
The reality of our situation is that media has become a new church, more powerful than anything we could imagine. It goes well beyond bad language, sex, violence and nudity. Think about it. Media now extends itself from the electronic screen. It has infiltrated our lives and culture. It is part of everything we absorb on some level. It has influenced how we think, where we go, what we do and what’s important.
Let’s say that the average, committed Christian teenager goes to church twice weekly, including being an active participant in the youth ministry. That’s perhaps four hours a week, tops. Let’s say for the sake of argument that he or she may even go on a mission trip or two. Now compare that to the amount and level of media that they are exposed to each week. Think about it. Really think about it. Who do you think is going to win?
We have a false sense of security. It’s everybody except “our” kids. Some studies have found that over 70% of kids in youth ministry will say goodbye to their faith after age 18. Again, who’s winning the battle? Most Christian leaders don’t want to talk about this. That’s the real story.
I’m a media guy. And I know that media, including films and TV, can have a profound, positive impact. That’s why I am encouraging Christians to get serious about this issue. We need to teach our kids to be media savvy, to make good choices, and to understand the message and the influence of today’s media culture. That can be done through a solid, media literacy program. We need to teach our youth to think for themselves and not allow the media to do it for them. I know this all seems overwhelming, but this is a place to start.
Getting back to the article, Vicky Rideout’s final thoughts, I think, are very appropriate. She says, “Anything that takes up this much time, we really do need to think about it and talk about it.” Are you ready to start a dialogue?