Young children should avoid secondhand TV watching but what about adult secondhand media consumption?

A new study in Pediatrics suggests there are detrimental effects to young children from secondhand TV:

The study, which appears in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics, finds that a child between the ages of 8 months and 8 years takes in nearly four hours of this “secondhand TV” which could have consequences on his or her well-being.

“Too much television can stop children from learning how to entertain themselves,” said Rutgers University Sociology Professor Deborah Carr. “And if they get used to having that background noise all the time, it’s very distracting. It’s distracting when they’re working on their homework, it keeps them from sleeping and stops them from engaging in conversation and and doing other things, like playing outside. The children, and the parents for that matter, can never invest 100 percent in what they’re supposed to be doing if the television is on in the background all the time.”

According to the study, background TV was especially common in certain populations. Children under the age of 2, African-American children, youngsters living in poverty and kids will less-educated parents had the highest levels of exposure, up to five hours a day. Meanwhile, exposure ranged from two and a half to three hours per day among white children and those from more affluent families.

Aside from the obvious distraction television can create for children, there are other consequences of too much “secondhand TV.” “If the television is constantly on in the background, children may absorb lessons that are not age appropriate,” said Carr. “Also, another issue is if you watch a half-hour of television, ten minutes of that time is going to be advertisements. Those advertisements are usually for unhealthy foods or toys that parents can’t afford or things of that nature. So, I think another problem is not just the programming, but this exposure 24/7 to advertisements.”

I suspect a lot of people today consume “secondhand” media. For example, here are some 2010 figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation:

With technology allowing nearly 24-hour media access as children and teens go about their daily lives, the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth, according to a study released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation.  Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week).  And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.

The amount of time spent with media increased by an hour and seventeen minutes a day over the past five years, from 6:21 in 2004 to 7:38 today.  And because of media multitasking, the total amount of media content consumed during that period has increased from 8:33 in 2004 to 10:45 today.

Is multitasking that different from secondhand exposure? Recommendations in a reputable journal like this notwithstanding, this sort of media usage is becoming more normal for lots of ages. For those beyond young childhood, if such exposure doesn’t lead to more distraction, at the least, being bombarded with advertisements is a potential issue.

Just wait till we all get our Google glasses and then see how much media we can consume…

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