Kids have more electronics in their rooms, often use two or more at once

Wednesday, March 9th 2005, 1:47 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ It wasn't too long ago that a kid with a stereo and television in his room might have been the coolest on the block. Now, that just makes him one of the crowd.

In the past five years, many children's rooms have evolved into multimedia centers, with cable or satellite hookups, computers and video game consoles.

For instance, 20 percent of youngsters age 8 to 18 can surf the Web from their bedrooms, double the figure from 1999, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey released Wednesday.

That has helped turn kids into ``media multitaskers,'' researchers suggest. Nearly one-third of kids say they chat on the phone, surf the Web, instant message, watch TV or listen to music ``most of the time'' while doing their homework.

What effect this behavior has on the often fragile ability of kids to focus is unclear because detailed research is fairly new, said Vicky Rideout, the foundation vice president who directed the study.

``We are not necessarily saying that kids spending more time with more media is a bad thing,'' Rideout said. ``This is something all parents have to decide based on what age their kids are, how they are doing in school and the parents' own values.''

Some of the blame _ or praise _ rests with the Internet and technology such as instant messaging, tools widely used for education and entertainment, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

``The parental fear is that this can't be good by splitting kids' attention into so many segments,'' Rainie said. ``Yet the argument in favor of it is you are more efficient, you can do things on the fly that you couldn't do before.''

Kaiser surveyed more than 2,000 third-graders through 12th-graders between October 2003 and March 2004 about their nonschool use of TV and videos, music, video games, computers, movies and print. The study included nearly 700 people who kept seven-day ``media diaries.''

On average, kids devoted six hours and 21 minutes a day to recreational media use, an increase of just two minutes from 1999, the Kaiser study found.

That still amounts to over 44 hours a week _ four more hours than a parent's typical work week.

But 26 percent of kids in 2004 said they ``multitasked'' when using any form of media, compared with 16 percent five years earlier. That could mean a child is downloading music over the Internet while playing video games, or chatting online while watching a favorite TV show.

Over the same period the proportion of kids' homes that have two or more computers jumped from 25 percent to 39 percent, and the proportion with Internet access in the home grew from 47 percent to 74 percent.

The proportion of kids who had a VCR or DVD player in their room rose from 36 percent to 54 percent, while the proportion with cable or satellite TV in their own room grew from 29 percent to 37 percent.

Cable and satellite programming is not subject to the federal indecency guidelines that free, over-the-air broadcast TV and radio stations must follow.

Speaking at a Kaiser forum Wednesday, Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton said increased exposure to risque TV programming, violent video games, and salacious Internet sites have led to a ``silent epidemic'' of media sex and violence.

``Parents worry their children will not grow up with the same values they did because of the overwhelming presence of the media,'' said Clinton, D-N.Y. She called for closer attention by parents and government to what kids watch and play.

That goes beyond just keeping a time log of how much time they spend in front of the TV or the computer, said Donald Roberts, a Stanford University communications professor.

``It's not just the time, it's the messages. ... What are they learning from that time,'' Roberts said after the audience was shown clips of racy scenes from ABC's ``Desperate Housewives,'' a Britney Spears video and other programs.

A majority of kids _ 53 percent _ in the Kaiser survey said their families had no rules for TV viewing. The remaining kids said they had rules, but just 20 percent said those guidelines were enforced most of the time.