How does your TV use influence your child’s use?

Can you estimate a typical American household's TV habits?“Parents who watch TV have children who watch TV.” (Anyone get this reference to the 1980s anti-drug PSAs?) A new study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania demonstrates that the amount of time a parent spends watching TV each day influences the amount her/his child spends doing the same.

This finding seems rather obvious, but the details of the study are interesting in what they reveal about media use in average U.S. households with children. Here are some highlights, presented Harper’s Index-style:

4: The number of hours a typical parent spends watching TV every day

2.8: The number of hours a typical child spends watching TV every day

70: Percentage of parents who have a television in their bedroom

46: Percentage of children who have a television in their bedroom

3: Average number of televisions sets in a home

23: The increase (in minutes) in a child’s daily viewing time per 1 hour increase in a parent’s daily viewing time

47: Minutes by which parents underestimate their adolescents’ daily viewing time

Another interesting finding is that a parent’s TV viewing time is more strongly associated with a child’s viewing time than are limitations placed on the amount the child could watch. In other words, they tend to do as you do, and not as you say.



Digital natives, tablets, and dinner time peace

An iPad, an iPad mini, a Nexus, two laptops, a desktop computer, Apple TV, and two iPhones: these are the tech contents of Stefani’s house, where she lives with her husband and their sons, 3-year-old Porter and 5-year-old Graysen.

tablet-pile_for_Stef_postHer husband is a software developer, so they’re used to having the latest technology available. When it came time to select a school for the boys, Stefani said they specifically sought one with ‘smart’ classrooms that use interactive screens. She knows that her older son especially learns a great deal using apps, and is used to the interface.

“If you took them from an iPad world,” she said, “and put them in front of a chalkboard, they would be like, ‘what’s this?’”

At home, too, the boys are true ‘digital natives,’ who are comfortable with any and all technology and see it as just another one of their toys. Stefani said they feel as if they should have the right to pick up any tablet nearby and start watching something on it.

“They feel really entitled,” she said, and they don’t like to be told not to use the devices. “They’re like, ‘what do you mean, I can’t watch a movie?’”

Stefani said she limits their use when she notices they’ve been on screens for too long in a single day. At that point, she said, the family will often go for an outing together.

“It’s really important to me that they’re active,” she said. “I want them to engage, and be creative, and do projects, and play outside.”

One time when she generally does not say no to screens is during dinner. Her boys beg for technology, she says, to watch something during the meal. She and her husband generally give in, she said, “because we want to eat in peace.”

They don’t use any ‘nanny’ software to block content yet, she said, because the boys can’t use the devices away from the parents’ watchful gaze. Stefani said she monitors content closely, because she knows how a scary movie or image can affect a child. When she was under 10 years old, she was terrified after being allowed to watch movies like “The Shining” and “The Amityville Horror.”

Her mother thought it wouldn’t be that bad, she said, but “I was scarred as a child.”

Although Stefani shields her kids from potentially frightening content and only lets them see G-rated movies, she doesn’t have strong opinions against media in general.

“It is what it is, it’s the world we live in.”

How ‘free to play’ games hook kids into purchases

Screenshot from Candy Crush SagaDo your kids like so-called ‘free to play’ games on the tablet or smartphone? Beware of games that persuade them – using highly effective techniques – to make in-app purchases. Dr. Carla Engelbrecht Fisher reports on that the makers of the hugely popular Candy Crush Saga make upwards of $600,000 per day on the game.

How can a single game be so profitable? According to Fisher, creators use careful and strategic design that hooks the player in, and they encourage small purchases of next levels, additional ‘lives,’ and more fun.

Are kids really purchasing things online without their parents’ knowledge? Well, a 14-month-old girl recently bought a vintage car on eBay. Most purchases are much smaller, but $0.99 here and $2.99 there can really add up. Have your kids made in-app purchases without your knowing?

A Kindle, pixels, and moral lessons

Lorelei does not let her son watch TV for one primary reason: the commercials. She is opposed to the values that advertising promotes, and she’d rather 5-year-old Sebastian didn’t absorb their “messages of material consumption.”

pic_for_Lorelei_postInstead, Sebastian’s digital device of choice is a Kindle Fire, which his mother says he uses to play video games and watch occasional videos (pre-screened by her) on Netflix and YouTube.

She has a mixed opinion of video games, having been an avid player of them in her 20s. On the positive side, she says, they can help develop hand-eye coordination, teach problem-solving and math skills, and encourage reading. In her opinion, multi-player games can even help the user learn social skills and people management.

One category Lorelei generally says no to is violent video games such as first-person shooters and Grand Theft Auto, which she describes as “morally corrupt.” She does not believe that these games directly cause people to commit violence, but she does have a problem with some of the actions a player can take in such games, such as hitting a prostitute with one’s car to steal money from her.

While she generally doesn’t have an issue with kids killing unreal monsters – such as zombies – in a game, she doesn’t like her son to engage in the more realistic violence in games like GTA. In such a situation, Lorelei does not relish making the distinction to a five-year-old between violence in real life and in the game world.

“Trying to explain why it’s not okay to kill a hooker but you can run down a pixelated one is MUCH harder,” she says.

Lorelei uses the Kindle as a privilege to help teach Sebastian manners and money management. He rarely gets to use it at the dinner table, and when he asks for an app that must be purchased, he earns it by doing age-appropriate chores.

As a parent, Lorelei strives for balance in her son’s use of the device.

“It’s lovely to be able to get things done around the house and work on my own projects with him fully occupied,” she says. “On the other hand, I strive to encourage him to find OTHER things to occupy himself with, such as reading or art or playing outside.”

Lorelei is amazed by and sometimes concerned about the level of access to media Sebastian’s generation has. She compares it to her own childhood, when media consisted of four TV channels and an Atari console at a friend’s house. She recalls Saturday morning cartoons as the apex of her week, with regard to media.

“We had to wait for one day a week, and it only lasted like two hours.”