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A media juggling act

When I read about media multi-tasking, or the act of using multiple screens at once, my mind jumped to a vision: a child watching the images of an advertisement on a muted television screen–“dial this number for weight loss supplements!”—while hearing a commercial between songs on Pandora—“stop by for our new double bacon Hawaiian burger”—while surfing the Internet on her smart phone and coming across the latest sex-driven Skyy Vodka ad.

In an age where the thought process among young people seems to be, “why just watch TV when I can also text my friends AND use my laptop?” this vision isn’t just likely, it’s potentially harmful.

Russell Jago and his colleagues, exercise scientists from the University of Bristol in England, asked 10 and 11 year olds how they use screen devices in their homes. Almost all the kids had a television at home, followed by 75 percent that had a game console, 71 percent with laptops, 62 with desktop computers, and 51 percent with their own smart phones. Most of the kids used more than one at a time.

Balancing multiple screens leaves kids open to receiving more of the media’s messages, which can be detrimental to their body image, self-esteem, and self-perception.

In addition to negative psychological outcomes, excessive screen time comes with other consequences. The cross-promotion of food products and popular cartoon, TV, or movie characters may make high-sugar, processed foods more appealing to children than healthier whole foods. Most importantly, the time that all the screen devices occupy is time that children could spend in more meaningful physical activities, using their whole bodies instead of just their thumbs.

In his study, Jago offers a solution: families need to set limits for all this screen time. Even if goals aren’t met, he says, “setting goals makes children and parents aware of how much they are doing.”

This is advice all of us could follow. Are you aware of how much time you devote to screen devices each day? Do you feel its effects?



11 thoughts on “A media juggling act

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  1. I think the problem is our society doesn’t give people many interesting things to do with their full body. Going to the gym? boring. I also feel that because people are more realistic about possible trouble that could befall unsupervised children, that there isn’t much for them to do outside of home.

    This is more complicated then “Why don’t they just turn off the PC go out and play?” We live in a different time. I find the notion that somehow technology is the bane of almost everything tired and ignorant. Instead of rejecting technology, perhaps if parents embraced it then there wouldn’t be this nostalgic look back to a time before computers. Guess what, things weren’t all rosy when it was the parents’ childhood and they could run around wherever they pleased, but you won’t see a person romanticizing the past admit that technology has done more good then bad.

    Children are able to communicate with people from outside their community. This means if they are bullied in school, they can get some perspective on the situation, that the problem isn’t with them. That they can find friends, and it’s not because they are socially inept. As far as advertising, I suppose billboards, driving by huge McDonald’s signs, and hearing advertising on the radio are no problem, it’s only a problem if that same information comes through a screen. That’s hypocritical nonsense.

    Parents want their kid to spend less time on the PC, then plan an outing their kid would like. A trip to the arcade, a interactive exhibit at the museum. Embracing technology instead of fighting it is the way to go. Seems just because something is new everyone has to demonize it and panic over it. Meanwhile people are viewiing the past with rosy glasses, and ignoring the real dangers that children may have faced from running around unsupervised. Sure perhaps free-range parents thing they’re so amazing, shunning technology and letting their kids have freedom. That’s until their child is kidnapped, or bullied. Suddenly the fantasy that nobody would dare harm a child, is broken. All because that parent wanted to live in ignorance and in a fantasy land.

    It is fantasy to believe that kids are going to be safer running around outside unwatched, then on a computer where many children’s websites are highly protective against bad speech. Furthermore, this seems to be tying in with the obesity hysteria and the notion that if kids aren’t running around 24/7 they’ll die. How about considering that maybe a child’s happiness matters, more than them “looking” healthy. That maybe this whole fantasy people have about how much fun it was back in the past where kids could use their imagination and explore the woods, is ignoring that most of these activities resorted from boredom.

    So we should bore our kids into physical activity, because parents think technology is black and white and is more bad than good? That instead of understanding our child’s world, we should be forcing them away from it into what we know. That sounds awfully selfish doesn’t it? Parents can educate themselves about the sites their children are visiting. They can see their child only goes to safe sites. I don’t see how making a panic out of the reality that *gasp* children use technology these days, accomplishes anything other than creating another obstacle for that child to overcome. Another reason for a parent to fight with their child, because the parent is convinced if their child isn’t out running around, they must be a bad parent. How about understanding not everyone will be a social butterfly and that the internet may be their only refuge. Or even considering, that things aren’t that bad just because a child is using several forms of media to communicate. Perhaps we should greive the fantasy that a childhood based on imagination, spurned by boredom, is better than a childhood where someone learns social skills and is better equipped to handle the real world. Maybe we should also understand that many communities are intolerant of students who are different in the most minor way, and that it is fantasy to think it would be better to let them think they’ll never have friends and be convinced something is wrong with them, rather than allowing them the opportunity to reach out and find other friends in the same situation on the computer.

    I just would like to see people stop demonizing technology, like it’s this big bad boogeyman stealing away children. How about instead of trivializing that children are having fun on the computer by saying, they should exercise something outside of their thumbs, understanding and respecting that child’s happiness. Can we get past the idea that children can be trained like dogs, and should be raised as such, irregardless of if that makes them miserable or not. Children are people, and many people feel more comfortable online than in the real world. I can’t even understand why this is an issue. It’s ridiculous, like fighting over a marble. Why can’t we encourage understanding of technology, rather than infantile demonizing of it. Instead of suggesting that parents should regard it the way a small child regards a monster under their bed. Can we please respect children as people, rather than small versions of ourselves we need to mold into what WE want.

  2. Oh dear, I’m guessing you are a youngun yourself, eh? Just as you recognise the dangers of kids “running about unsupervised” so you should recognise the dangers of kids using technology unsupervised….. let any 10 year old on youtube and just see what comes from the most harmless sounding search words…..
    But onto the use of “play” as opposed to technology. This correlates to the relationship between reading a book and watching a tv show or movie. When you read a book, your brain is engaged multiple ways = you are intepreting the information and creating images in your brain from the information provided according to however your imagination can process it. When you watch tv or a movie, you are simply sucking down the information provided. It’s like the fast food of the brain. Not much processing involved – the images and story are all presented in the one package and you just consume it.

    So “play” has been proven essential for the developing brain. Cognitive and essential processing at the most fundamental level are used to process the information a child is seeing, feeling, smelling, tasting, touching in their environment. The whole point is that the child is experiencing and making sense of it THEMSELVES…. It is not a digital representation of something. Let’s use a leaf as an example. The child picks it up. Immediately sensory information pours into the brain – is it heavy or light, is it soft or hard or something in between? Does it have a particular smell to it? Is the surface smooth and shiny, or is it dried and crackly? If the child drops it, how does it fall? Say the child ventures to a sandpit…. grabs a handful of sand and puts it into it’s mouth (they all do this – it’s normal). The grainy texture, salty taste and dryness will be registered in the brain. When the child is older, by adding water and tools more sophisticated processing happens. The child builds something and learns what will and won’t work with that medium. As the child grows, it uses the information previously stored (from experiences during “play”) to extrapolate more scenarios – maybe build a cubby that won’t fall down or build a dam across a creek. As that child then grows to be an adult, all these previous experiences will contribute to their abilities…. understanding why engineering projects may fail, come up with a solution to a problem based on experiences rather than just “data”.
    No-one has ever said that children were “safer” back in the day, just that people with paedophile tendencies didn’t have the internet to back up their urges and maybe bring them to the fore. Children were safer from other adults back then, but obviously if you fell out of a tree the danger was just the same as falling out of a tree now. It’s just that if you’d been climbing trees a lot when you were younger, you’re less likely to make a stupid mistake when you get older. You would have gained physical competencies that many technology-based kids of today don’t have.
    There was a lot more personal freedom back then too…… fall over or make a mistake? Never mind, only those three kids over there saw, and really, who are they gonna tell? … BUT NOT NOW…. all three of those kids now would whip out their smartphones, film your humiliation and it would be posted on every social site you can think of before you even picked yourself up off the ground. Talk about bullying? Happened a lot less when I was a kid. Once you went home from school, you were home. Nobody would have thought of phoning/texting/MSNing/fBing you about anything…. what happened at school stayed at school, unless someone’s mum got involved. Then ALL the kids ran for cover!
    The rosey coloured glasses you reflect on are for a time when people understood about privacy. NO-ONE would have been proud of a child who posted themselves having sex up where all could see. You seem to think that we played out of boredom…. we actually didn’t. Playing was our job. We were all really good at it. Bickering included. We’d never have thought to get a grown-up to solve whose turn it was – usually the oldest kids there got to dictate the turns. It was just what we did. Parents did the boring stuff, kids got to ride their bikes around the neighbourhood, play cricket in the street (the call of “car” meant move the bin you were using for stumps and move out of the way), or run through the sprinklers on hot days. Cold weather meant all gathering at someone’s house and buidling a fort out of whatever was to hand. Sometimes being a kid meant lying under a tree looking up at the ants building a nest (and the thrill when one dropped on someone and then jumped up squealing – secretly hoping it wouldn’t be you next time) and TALKING!!!! TALKING TALKING TALKING….. That was kids therapy for the most part. Staying inside without your neighbours was PUNISHMENT. We all learned acceptable behaviour because if you hurt others or were obnoxious, no-one would play with you. Now everything seems turned on it’s head as social media trumpets the bullying jock as ruler of all and the nasty school princess as desirable. Who in their right mind would choose either of these as a life partner???? REALLY????
    Don’t get me wrong – technology has fantastic uses. It can expand your mind and let you into worlds you never knew existed. I love it and play online games myself. I have a smartphone and use it ALL THE TIME. We have both a Wii and PS3 and I love CoD. One of my children loves WoW, but the other would rather be painting. She is 10 and still experimenting with technique and colour – that’s what’s engaged her – the tactile process of painting. Ask most kids if they’d rather use real paint or a painting tool on a computer and 95% will choose the paint and paper option. Why? Because they EXPERIENCE the process…..
    But really – technology is NOT a sufficient learning tool for kids. It completely lacks the experiential learning necessary for a fully developed brain. Children are people, but they are UNDEVELOPED people. They are not a whole and complete person yet. What they experience and learn for themselves makes them into a whole adult (hopefully). All mammals are the same – the young are born helpless and learn how to function from their environment and the adults around them. If you only give a child technology they will learn facts, but no empathy, no tactile understanding of their world. How do you explain “hot” to a child who hasn’t experienced it? Basically what I’m saying is there has to be a balance – small children should be extremely limited in their exposure to technology as a learning tool.
    When you are a grownup you can move to somewhere safer and get out a bit more. The online world can be great, but it limits you to missing out on some of the best bits of RL.

  3. I see, so despite the internet being filled with educational material, and the ability to interact with others and learn from your mistake, you still feel your romanticized notions about rough and tumble are somehow better? Also, you may not know this, but pedophiles exsisted before the internet. Did you know there was something called the mail, where these pedophiles could communicate before the internet. I’m betting they also managed their own networks too before the internet. It’s fantasy that things were better, just because people were allowed to live in ignorance.

    We’re also talking about them using a computer, not putting a virtual reality on their heads and hooking them up to an IV. A child can learn what hot means, and have access to technology at the same time. It isn’t black and white. As far as not learning empathy, there’s much more of a lack of learning empathy in our public schools then there are online.

    Also your ignorant assumption that I must be a child is wrong. I am 29 years old. I am an adult, and I fortunately grew up with parents who didn’t force me to live in their romantic notion of what childhood should be like. Did I do things like paint yes, did I prefer Kid Pix because it allowed you to use kalidoscope on the drawn images more than painting, yes. I also played a good amount of Nintendo, and learned what it meant to acheive things on your own. Sure perhaps it isn’t as good or wholesome as your fantasy of building a dam across a creek, and learning life lessons from making the mistakes of breaking limbs, or smashing a finger with a hammer.

    Also, the fact that there was less bullying back then? You are only seeing your life through the eyes of your small exsistence, maybe you didn’t get bullied, but I’m sure many children did. I’m also sure that those children who couldn’t find support or friendship in their own communities, had to resort to what, becoming bookworms? Where today they can find support on the internet from other children who feel rejected. Learn what empathy means. So perhaps you should leave your insulting ageist assumptions aside, and join us in the 21st century.

    Also, you say play is good for the developing brain, but apparently gaming isn’t considered play to you. That is absolute BS. Especially when you enjoy gaming yourself. I don’t see what your point was in posting here then. To try and convince me of the magic and innocence of a 10 year old managing to paint? That people apparently know nothing about privacy now, because we’re more able to communicate with each other? Or, that life was better before technology, because you could live in the blissful ignorance that no harm could ever come to you or anyone else? Maybe the issue is that parents aren’t raising their children with empathy in general. That these children you are singling out that post humilating images of people on the internet, would have been yesterday’s bullies skulking around the playground looking to beat someone up. Or would that humilation have been better, because it was more tactile and real? “. Now everything seems turned on it’s head as social media trumpets the bullying jock as ruler of all and the nasty school princess as desirable.” You think this didn’t happen in the past? Did you not go to public school, or did you manage to completely dissociate yourself from the going ons around there?

    If anything you make a case for my position. I’m not comforting myself with fantasies that the woods were magical, and that 10 year olds learning to paint off a computer, is an amazement. I’m living in the present reality, and I think you should join me there.

  4. whoa whoa whoa. The point of this article wasn’t to demonize technology. It was to point out an issue stemming from another issue. Utilizing positive aspects of these screens, (i.e. possible learning opportunities one could come across on the internet) is one thing. It isn’t ignorant to state that children using multiple screens is NOT a good thing. As per the comment of rosey glasses, if not “play” what about reading a book? Would a book ever seem appealing to a kid who has been conditioned to be accustomed to hyper-stimulation that comes with using multiple screened devices at once?

    Jackie, your immediate response to this article seemed full of anger, which I’m assuming stems from your own personal experiences regarding this subject. But you are turning this article into a stance it wasn’t meant to have. Are we saying kids shouldn’t interact with technology at all? Not only is that impossible but unrealistic. Do they have to use a bunch of devices at once? Certainly not. It’s true that kids will be exposed to advertisements in the outside world (billboards and such) but, logically, using multiple devices only increases this exposure.

    Lastly, its not at all constructive to go about calling people ignorant because they have a different opinion of yours. You need to learn a better way to communicate with others. Your arguments become weaker when you rely on “name-calling”.

  5. I agree with Megan. Jackie, you did come off as hostile.

    Bravo, Rosey! I remember a time without technology and it did seem less stressful, more fun, and not so overwhelming. Every image that children look at has been photoshopped and retouched. The main focus of media these days, especially for girls and women, is how to look beautiful and thin and how to attract a man. If not that, it is teaching us to better please our men. Children see this in multiple media mediums and it is a little overwhelming. Eventually, they are left with no self esteem. Technology also teaches entitlement and instant gratification. Everything you want is at the click of a mouse. Technology creates social isolation and the inability for children to relate to one another interpersonally. Technology teaches a lack of compassion and aceptance for others who differ from the “ideal” set forth in these mediums.

    I do think technology has brought about some great innovations and has opened a doorway to reach out to others in different communities and different parts of the world than our own, but by and large, I think that media does more harm than good.

  6. Maybe these children are left with no self esteem, because their parents are too busy shaming them for their use of technology. Books can also be socially isolating, I have yet to hear parents complaining their children are reading too much. As far as children learning a lack of compassion and acceptance, they are learning that from our public schools. Our schools, that put socialization at a priority to learning. You can be getting all As in your classes, but you’ll still be griped about how you’re not understanding social cues.

    Technology and the media are not the same thing. Media is commericals, billboards, and advertisements on TV. Technology can be many things, it can be a game that teaches your child through video game type learning. It can be a place children find friends to chat with. Limiting your child to only the people in their town to talk to, or try to make friends with, makes their life more difficult not easier. There rarely is the same amount of cliqueishness on the internet, than there is in real life.

    As for instant gratification? When you buy a video game, you have to work at beating it. Not over a day, perhaps over weeks, even months. This teaches children to have patience and that learning is beneficial. It teaches these lessons in a way that is enjoyable. It’s what our schools should be about, rather then mindless memorization, and tests. Is it more important a child can discuss prom with their friend, or that they understand that acheivement doesn’t come in an instant. That if it does, it’s rewards only are satisfying for a very short while. I think a kid who learns through gaming, that doing a week’s worth of chores, can bring them rewards just as much as beating a level after trying 3 times can.

    Honestly, I don’t know what those of you who are anti-technology want. To be honest, I have said all I can on the subject. I guess I should be lucky my parents relied on their intuiton, rather then popular opinon. The real issue here is that a form of learning and entertainment, is being demonized for no reason, other than it’s the chic thing to do these days. I should just use that patience I learened, to wait until another threat comes along that gives parents the heebie jeebies. This is a non-issue, and frankly could be solved by parental supervision in general. A child is going to see the same messages in the real world on billboards and signs, that they would be seeing online. It’s fantasy to believe that you can hide your children from them, just by disconnecting them. Or that, somehow it is wrong for them to enjoy technology, because it isn’t perfectly pure. What next, an article about how to homeschool your child and keep them completely safe from the big bad world?

  7. You’ve issed the whole point, Jackie… I’m not anti-technology – I love it! And I’ve never heard of a parent “shaming” their children for using technology unless it’s been kids who’ve accessed sites that they REALLY shouldn’t! It’s great fun and often of great assistance! You can learn heaps of really interesting things, and as an adult, who has learned social skills and how to moderate myself without ranting belligerently, I love that so many people can all present opinions that differ within the same conversation. I think one of the biggest issues with technology, though, is the anonymity it affords and that people don’t have to back up what they say and face others they are talking to.
    The entire thrust of my response was that children will not benefit from multi-streaming technology at an early age. Any teacher in any school can point to the children raised almost solely on TV, computers and any other small-screen devices as their “play”. This is because these children are obviously behind in many valid ways (and I realise that you will counter immediately by pointing out that they’ll be much better at typing, gaming etc). Peripheral vision is underdeveloped, social interaction is stunted (and by this I mean the ability to take turns, share and listen to others), attention spans are shorter and physical development (yes, I do mean a level of fitness) and motor skills are lower. Gaming does not encourage taking turns – unless all the players are engaged all the time, people will not play the game! Looking around and awareness of your environment is not encouraged or required as your “world” has contracted to the screen in front of you. Patience is a virtue, but if a quest takes too long, folks log it and drop it when they level up! Someone taking too long to get to the quest/raid site? Drop them from the group, then! The kind of patience you are talking about is solely self-interested and does not include learning to be patient with others. Physical development and motor skills (and mouse skills don’t equate to hand-eye co-ordination!) are completely self-explanatory. And where’s the physical relationship online? Positive physical contact, whether it is a hug, or shaking hands, is still core to human happiness. Doctors in neo-natal wards prove that premmie babies and those with special needs respond far more positively and have a much higher survival rate when stroked, cuddled or physically nurtured, than those who go without this touching. Children flourish when hugged and given positive physical interactions. I don’t mean we should all run around randomly hugging each other, but without positive human to human contact (usually predicated by conversation and/or interpretation of facial expression), we become anti-social, angry and fearful. Social cues such as facial expression and intonation are core to human interaction skills. I’m afraid that typing STILL doesn’t convey meaning sufficiently. It’s easy to cause offence if the recipient of your message doesn’t hear the tone you used. Your suggestion that you can get straight A’s and yet still be griped about missing social cues could be symptomatic of an autism spectrum disorder – my friend has two children who were both diagnosed this way. There are ways to manage and learn coping mechanisms. Relying on an inability to cope with others as a valid reason to retreat into a techological world is a bit sad, really. There are so many worthwhile people out there!
    Gaming is a fun and interactive entertainment. It’s not a replacement – it’s escapism. I enjoy gaming, and as an adult I have discretion about what information goes out and who I converse with. I am always mindful that the person on the other end of a keyboard may not quite be what they say they are. I am teaching my daughter this as she learns to play online games …. and please don’t imply by the fact that people love gaming and are good at it that bullying doesn’t occur within the gaming community. If you suck at a game, or are new at it, then it is relentless…. and those who are good at it seem to feel entitled to bully, just as some in the real world do… posting across worlds and “hunting” noobs is a classic example. Hardcore gamers are by far some of the meanest, angriest, most abusive and least tolerant people I’ve ever talked to, either online or in the real world. And the younger they are, the worse they are… kids learn early that anonymity means no repercussions.
    The point of my previous post is that BALANCE and pacing is needed. Children need to learn basic life & coping skills before we provide them with technology tools to expand their brains and their world. We are all animals still – teach them social interaction skills and give them good and positive real world experiences so that they have a great basis before moving on to the technology-based world we growups all live in anyway. It’s not like it’s going to go away anytime soon, is it? There’s plenty of time for them to learn/use/live in the technological world, but those early years are the ONLY time those essential skills can be developed easily and naturally.

  8. Rosey-Glasses, I had a bit of trouble reading your posts because it appeared as a block of text on my screen but I made my way through as well as all the other posts. I am of a similar age to the poster Jackie, I will be 28 in one month. I would like to say that of all the posts yours was the only one that seemed hostile at all and even if you did not mean to portray yourself as anti technology it very much seemed as though that was your argument to me.

    I am assuming that your name means that you acknowledge that you are also surely viewing your childhood with rose colored glasses the same as Jackie. I have found that in my particular age group, I am an anomaly. Many children had access to more technology than I did, my siblings certainly did, but I did not have much access except in school until I was an adult. I don’t really have the option of rose colored glasses for my own childhood in most respects but I do know that I enjoyed my time outside very much.

    I didn’t have much chance for TV at home either, my bio-mom never let me watch it. I did have a seemingly unlimited access to books and the games I created in my own imagination. In a lot of ways, my ability to socialize was hindered by my limited access to technology, I did not have the same experiences as my peers. A lack of technology does not create a healthier ability to socialize. It doesn’t teach people to connect more, on the contrary I can say in my experience it was a way to disconnect. A leaf and some ants, books, video games, television, the internet, all of these things can be a way to connect or disconnect from others. The determining factor is the person.

    I suppose we could just say moderation and balance are key in everything.

    I do realize though that nothing I have said had anything to do with the article. It is very interesting to consider how using multiple screens at once can make us more susceptible to the messages in the media. I wonder if that is because our attention is split in a way that it is harder to dissect each message or simply that we are taking in more.

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