Kids Still Glued to TV (One Way or Another)

Amid all the attention rightly paid to kids’ engagement with new technologies, TV viewing remains the dominant media activity of 8-18-year-olds. Released today, a Kaiser Family Foundation report says kids in this age bracket spend a daily average of four hours and 29 minutes consuming TV content. Time devoted to music/audio was a distant second, at 2:31.

It’s partly because TV sets are an inescapable presence in kids’ homes. In polling for the report (conducted between October 2008 and May 2009), 99 percent of respondents said their home has at least one TV set. The average number of TVs per home was 3.8. Half the kids (52 percent) said their home also has “digital TV recorders such as TiVo or other DVR.” Eighty-four percent said their home has cable or satellite TV; 47 percent said it has premium channels such as HBO or Showtime.

Nor is such technology confined to the family room. Seventy-one percent of the survey’s kids reported having a TV set in their own bedroom. Forty-nine percent have cable or satellite TV service there; 24 percent have premium channels; 13 percent have some sort of DVR.

The report notes a decline since a similar 2004 survey in the amount of time 8-18-year-olds spend watching “regularly scheduled TV.” That figure was down by 25 minutes per day. But this was more than made up for by the time kids now spend consuming TV content online (24 minutes), on an iPod or other MP3 player (16 minutes) and on cell phones (15 minutes). “All told, 59 percent (2:39) of young people’s TV viewing consists of live TV on a TV set, and 41 percent (1:50) is time-shifted, DVDs, online or mobile,” says Kaiser’s summary of the findings.

It’s not as though kids must make a point of seeking out TV when at home. One question asked how often TV is usually on in the home “even if no one is watching.” Forty-five percent said it’s on “most of the time.” And that includes mealtimes: 64 percent of respondents said the TV is “usually on during meals.”

As you’d expect, afternoon and evening are the dayparts that account for the biggest amounts of kids’ TV viewing. The average time spent viewing between noon to 6 p.m. was 1:32; the average between 6 p.m. and midnight was 1:59. The average for the hours between 7 a.m. and noon was 1:08.

Of course, TV viewing also coexists with other activities. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said that “most of the time” while watching TV, they’re simultaneously using a computer, reading, playing video games, texting or listening to music. Another 29 percent said they do this “some of the time.”