"Children and teens spend about as much time with media as they do sleeping, and the overexposure could take a toll on their health, a new U.S. study suggests.
The study, reported in Monday's issue of the journal Pediatrics, showed Americans aged eight to 18 spend more than seven hours per day on average consuming both old media such as TV, movies and magazines as well as new media including internet, social networking sites, video and computer games and cell phones.
The study found exposure to the media can make children more prone to:
• Violence — the impact of media violence on real-life aggressive behavior is 0.31 times higher, compared with 0.39 times for the link between smoking and lung cancer.
• Early and unprotected sexual activity, particularly if exposed to pornography.
• Alcohol and tobacco consumption, with exposure to smoking in movies in Grades 5 to 8 predicting the likelihood of starting smoking within eight years.
• Obesity, with possible culprits including the marketing of junk food and fast food and the tendency to eat while watching media.
• Heavy television-viewing — that is, two to three hours a day in early childhood has been linked with attention-deficit disorder during the early school years, though experts disagree about the nature of the connection."
Okay, so I'm in the industry. Of course I'm going to question these findings. Not because they threaten my livelihood in any way (they don't) but rather because they ignore important research done over the past few decades into the science of human nature.
In that time, I've been keenly reading pop evolutionary psychology books by scientists like Steven Pinker, Matt Ridley, Geoffrey Miller and others. And what they have taught me is that people are not simply vessels for culture. They're slaves to much greater forces.
Basically (if I recall correctly) your personality is mostly determined by your genes. Peer influence is what acculturates you and shapes your natural character. And parenting has a small but important influence — which can wreck havoc with the final product if it takes the form of abuse or neglect.
The effects of "Media" don't even enter these discussions. Why is that? Here's where my people come in.
As I mentioned in my blog about body image and advertising on Friday, advertisers give the people what they want. This can be expanded into all media. Movies, TV shows, games, social networks — they only succeed because people vote for them with their time and their wallets.
Today, especially, when consumers have a choice of endless media options with which to waste their time, they have more power than ever before. And it's this element of choice that makes me question these findings:
"The impact of media violence on real-life aggressive behavior is 0.31 times higher..."
Or, do naturally aggressive people like more violent entertainment?
"Early and unprotected sexual activity, particularly if exposed to pornography."
I don't know about you, but I was never "exposed" to pornography. In my day, getting your hands on a girlie mag was hard work! So some of the kids who look at dirty pictures are sexually precocious? Who knew! (I wasn't so lucky...)
"Alcohol and tobacco consumption, with exposure to smoking in movies..."
This one may have some merit, since old movies make smoking look so damn cool. But I still have to give credit to peer pressure here, and the fact that these "bad" kids are watching more adult media.
"Obesity, with possible culprits including the marketing of junk food and fast food and the tendency to eat while watching media."
...and the not exercising. But then, of course, we'd have to blame books too.
"Heavy television-viewing — that is, two to three hours a day in early childhood has been linked with attention-deficit disorder during the early school years, though experts disagree about the nature of the connection."
That one seems to cancel itself out. As far as I can see, today's movies and TV shows seem to be made by people with ADHD — not the other way around.
"And where's the parenting in all this?", you might ask. Kids who are spending too much time alone with electronic media are doing so because it's being allowed. Their parents either lack the time or the inclination to engage with their kids face-to-face, to get them out of the house and into activities, and to stop relying so much on an army of electronic babysitters.
This kind of correlation without causation research reporting reminds me of that bit in Freakonomics where a mayor looked at research showing that kids with books in their homes had higher literacy levels, so naturally set out to put books in every home. No question as to what sociological factors are at play. Just more books = more reading.
Media do not equal behaviours. At least, not unless you see people as sponges. I don't. I think it's the other way around.
PS: Welcome to new readers from the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University. It was great speaking to the Marketing class this morning.