MediaQuotient: National Survey of Family Media Habits, Knowledge, and Attitudes
MediaQuotient: National Survey of Family Media Habits, Knowledge, and Attitudes
By: Douglas A. Gentile and David A. Walsh
Source: National Institute on Media and the Family. "MediaQuotient: National Survey of Family Media Habits, Knowledge, and Attitudes." 1999 〈http://www.mediafamily.org/research/report_mqexecsum.shtml〉 (accessed June 29, 2006).
About the Author: Douglas A. Gentile is the director of the media research laboratory at Iowa State University. David A. Walsh founded the National Institute on Media and the Family in 1996. Each author has written extensively on the issues associated with media influences and the family.
The media habits of the American family have been affected by two separate forces—the expansion of the technologies that support various media, and the fundamental changes in the structure of the American family, particularly with regard to the control asserted by parents over the nature and the extent of the exposure of their children to all media.
The singular term 'medium' originally meant the form in which information was achieved; print, radio, and television were distinct media, separate entities from the information that was being transmitted or conveyed. In modern usage, the plural "media" is employed interchangeably as a definition of both the content and the mechanism to deliver it; this broader concept was popularized by social commentator Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980), whose 1967 book, The Medium Is the Message: An Inventory of Effects is the seminal work on the importance of media in modern society. McLuhan forecast both the rise and the desirability of electronic mass media.
Prior to 1920, the only media that influenced the American family was print. By 1900, the newspaper had become a feature of daily American life. Publishers were effectively self-regulating, avoiding any offensive or inappropriate content that might provoke a negative reaction from their readership. The use of bad language or the portrayal of sexually explicit situations was unheard of, and the likelihood that a child would be exposed to age-inappropriate written material during this period was negligible.
The radio became a central feature in many American homes after 1920 and it soon rivaled the newspaper as an influential force in society. The ability of a child or adolescent to access radio programming that might be seen as a negative influence remained nonexistent, however, as radio programming was an entirely family-oriented source of entertainment and news.
The introduction of the television to the American home, a process that began in the late 1940s, was the most important development in the media habits of the American family until that time. Television networks began to produce programming that was tailored to young people, and advertisers used these programs to target the youth audience. By 1970, American television was a sophisticated medium that expanded the envelope of available programming to include adult language and situations. This occurred as the rising divorce rate also created a greater number of single-parent households, where supervision and control of a child's television viewing was less rigid than in the past. The emergence of the two-income family, where both parents worked outside of the home left more children at home and unsupervised than at any previous time in history.
The use of personal computers in American homes eclipsed even the impact of television. The Internet represented a limitless broadening of media choices for American family members; unlike television, radio, and print formats, the control over the content of Internet communication rested primarily with the user.
MediaQuotient: National Survey of Family Media Habits, Knowledge, and Attitudes
This study provides a detailed picture of family media habits, including the use of television, movies, videos, computer and video games, the Internet, music, and print media.
Some Key Findings
Media Habits and Attitudes
Over half of parents of 2- to 17-year-olds have seen effects of violent video games, television, and movies on their children.
- 51 percent "agree" or "strongly agree" that their children are affected by the violence they see in video games
- 57 percent of parents "agree" or "strongly agree" that their children are affected by the violence they see in movies or on TV
Parents have expressed their concerns about the amount of sexual and violent content their children see in many surveys. While both sexual and violent content concern parents, the amount of sexual content has routinely been of slightly greater concern to parents. For the first time, this study shows that more parents are concerned about the amount of violent content their children see:
- 81 percent of parents of 2- to 17-year-olds "agree" or "strongly agree" that they are concerned about the amount of violent content their children see in movies or on TV
- 77 percent of parents "agree" or "strongly agree" that they are concerned about the amount of sexual content their children see in movies or on TV
The average American child:
- Watches 25 hours of television each week
- Plays computer or video games for 7 hours each week
- Accesses the Internet from home for 4 hours each week (among those who have Internet access)
20 percent of 2- to 7-year-olds, 46 percent of 8- to 12-year-olds, and 56 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have televisions in their bedrooms. Children who have television sets in their bedrooms watch more television than children who do not have television sets in their bedrooms (5 hours per week more, on average).
Although parents are concerned, and children are using media for many hours each day:
- Only 58 percent of parents have rules about how much TV may be watched
- Only 34 percent of parents "always" or "often" use the TV rating
- Only 40 percent of parents "always" or "often" look at the industry ratings before renting or buying computer or video games
- One-quarter (26%) of parents with Internet access use a blocking device for their children's Internet use
Perhaps this pattern is due to the fact that 36 percent of parents think that media have less influence on their children compared to most children, whereas only six percent think that media have more influence on their children compared to most children….
The Connection between Media Habits and School Performance
Family media habits can affect children's school performance. While it has been known for many years that the amount of television children watch is related to school performance (e.g., Huston et al., 1992), this study gives insight into many specific facets of media use that were not known previously. Furthermore, this study measured many types of electronic media as well as alternatives to electronic media, thus giving a more complete picture of family media habits.
Some key predictors of school performance include:
- Families that use electronic media less and read more have children who do better in school
- Parents who report that their children's behavior is less affected by media do better in school
- Children who participate in more alternatives to electronic media with their parents' support perform better in school
- Families that have the TV on during meals more frequently have children who do more poorly in school
- Families that report having the TV on more often even if no one is watching have children who do more poorly in school
- The average American child watches 25 hours of television a week. Children who watch less television do better in school. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children watch television "no more than 1 to 2 hours per day.")
- Parents who report that their children copy characters they have seen on TV more often have children who do more poorly in school
- Parents who report that their children more often watch TV before bed have children who do more poorly in school
- Families that play games or do activities together more frequently have children who do better in school
- Parents who read to their children more have children who like to read more. Children who like to read more do better in school
- Parents who agree more strongly that they are comfortable with the types of music their children listen to have children who do better in school
- Parents who report that they know what movie their child is going to see more often have children who do better in school
- Parents who report that their children play video or computer games less often have children who do better in school
The Connection between Media Habits and Media Effects
This study shows that one result of being influenced by the media (such as copying characters seen on TV, wanting to dress like sports or media stars, wanting to buy products seen on TV, parents seeing media have a negative effect, etc.) is a drop in school performance. However, the amount that media influence children is important in its own right. When asked how much their children are influenced by media compared to other children, parents are likely to report that their children are influenced less than other children (parents are six times more likely to say that their children are influenced less than they are to say that their children are influenced more). Yet, most families score lower on the Media Effects category of MediaQuotient than on any other category.
Some key predictors of how much children are influenced by media include:
- Parents who report that their children like to read more are also more likely to report having seen media have a positive effect on their children (as defined by parents)
- Parents who talk to their children about television programs more often are also more likely to report having seen media have a positive effect on their children.
- Parents who report that their children "always" or "often" watch educational television are less likely to report having seen media have a negative effect on their children
The various forms of electronic media that we have developed during the 20th century are very powerful. Because they are so powerful, they can benefit or harm children and communities dependent on how they are used. Wise use of media can help develop knowledge and skills, as well as provide engaging entertainment. However, unwise use can be harmful. The MediaQuotient research clearly shows how family media habits affect children in a variety of ways. Parents with more knowledge are better able to maximize the benefits and minimize the harm of these technologies. MediaQuotient can provide that knowledge and, in addition, offer suggestions for creating a healthier media diet.
A national random sample of 527 parents of two to seventeen-year-olds completed MediaQuotient questionnaires. The study was conducted by mail with telephone follow-up. The data collection was conducted by the independent research firm Anderson, Niebuhr & Associates, Inc. All data collection occurred between July 30 and November 4, 1998. The data reflect responses from all socioeconomic statuses. The data are weighted by income level to reflect national income distributions appropriately. The overall response rate for the study was 55 percent. The data are accurate to ±4% with a 95% confidence level.
The primary source draws a significant parallel between media habits and media effect, particularly with respect to the academic performance of children. Parents are clearly identified as people who can channel the media influences that ought to be experienced by the child.
The MediaQuotient study begins with the established premise that there exists a clear relationship between television viewing by children and school performance. There are many learned analyses of the question dating to the 1970s; wherever television has been employed as a de facto nanny, children tend to spend significant amounts of time watching television, and they tend to perform poorly in school in relation to children who watch less. The effect of the time spent by children on the Internet is now being evaluated in a similar fashion.
In modern American society, the media influences to which young people are exposed can rarely be isolated into distinct streams. Communication technologies have converged; Print, television, Internet, video games (often linked to their own web sites), interactive wireless telephones, and instant messaging are media sources that are often accessed simultaneously by a user. To understand how these modern media forces can influence a child, a parent must understand the nature and the extent of these technologies.
The MediaQuotient study also shows that turning off or simply blocking out the various media sources available to a modern American child is not a sensible strategy to limit negative media influences. Broad-based computer literacy is essential to virtually any position in the modern American workforce. College and university education has mandated the laptop computer as a necessary tool. High schools have made computer-based learning increasingly important.
One conclusion that can be drawn from the study is that a simple and ongoing dialogue is the best way to help a child understand media influences. This approach is not widespread, however, as numerous studies have shown that most American parents do not know what their children are doing on the Internet.
The study also suggests that where parents avoid making the television set the surrogate parent or babysitter, the child performs better in school. The twenty-five hours of weekly television viewing mentioned in the primary source has already been amended; a typical American child now spends 35 hours per week watching television, playing video or computer games, or accessing the Internet.
The relative freedom enjoyed by American children to use the Internet in their homes without interference is illustrated by statistical data that confirms that over fifty percent of American homes with Internet access have no rules about information viewed on the web, by instant messaging, or in e-mail. This profile is consistent with similar studies conducted in both Canada and Great Britain; over seventy percent of children aged 14 to 15 in Great Britain reported that their home computer usage was never supervised. In Canada, over seventy percent of parents surveyed stated that they had little or no discussion with their children regarding Internet access.
In 1990, phenomena such as identity theft, predatory stalking, and similar types of Internet crime did not exist. The interactive nature of electronic technology has introduced corresponding threats to family security that were unimaginable a generation ago. The extensive use of computers by children in an unsupervised or an uneducated fashion creates opportunities for exploitation. The family may be exposed to the risk of economic compromise and identity theft if a child unwittingly reveals confidential financial information. If parents do not educate themselves about children's Internet habits, or if the family operates without Internet/computer usage rules, the risk of falling victim to an unscrupulous influence is significant.
Baker, Leigh. Protecting Your Children from Sexual Predators. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002.
Sullivan, Mike. Safety Monitor: How to Protect Your Kids Online. Chicago: Bonus Press, 2002.
Gentile, Douglas A., and David A. Walsh. "A Normative Study of Family Media Habits." Applied Developmental Psychology. 23, no. 2 (202):157-158.
Hancox, Robert J., Barry J. Milne, and Richie Poult. "Association between Child-Adolescent Television Viewing and Adult Health: A Longitudinal Birth Cohort Study." Lancet. 364 (2004): 257-262.
Brody, Jane. New York Times. "Children, Media and Sex: A Big Book of Blank Pages." January 31, 2006 〈http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/31/health/〉 (accessed June 28, 2006).
American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. "Children and Watching T.V." February 2005 〈http://www.aacap.org/page/〉 (accessed June 29, 2006).