How Much Media Time is Too Much?

Did You Hear The One About Teens Spending 9 Hours A Day With Media? Not So Fast…

I've read articles touting the “new landmark study” illuminating how much time tweens and teens spend with media. To be honest, the reporting and headlines really upset me – but not because I think there is something wrong with how tweens and teens today use media. Rather, the way the study is being presented focuses on shock value as opposed to what the data really tells us. Here are some of my favorite headlines from the news about the same study:

“Media Addiction Absorbs Teens 9 Hours Every Day, Study Shows”

“Report: Teens Now Spend More Hours Consuming Media Than Sleeping”

“Teens Spend About Nine Hours a Day Staring at Screens”

These headlines scream for our attention as parents. After all, caring and responsible parents would certainly think that 9 hours spent on anything not productive is cause for alarm…right?

I did a little math today to try and figure out how much time I spend with a screen/media (not related to work) to see how I, an average mom with 2 teens, compare to teens in this survey. I found out that I am using media on average well over 12 hours a day.

Seem impossible? I would’ve thought so too, except for the fact that the survey separates simultaneous media activities into distinct time blocks. Huh? Essentially, that means that when I have the television on from 8-11pm at night and during that time am playing solitaire on my phone and have Twitter open on my iPad to check out what people are saying about the episode of “The Real Housewives” I’m watching, I am, according to the survey, accumulating at least 9 hours of media time even though in real time, it’s only been 3 hours.

Add to that my lunch hour when I turn on my iPad to listen to music while I surf the web on my laptop to shop and keep my smartphone open to Facebook to check all my updates…well, you get the idea. And remember, that number doesn’t take into account all the other times during the day when I fire up an app or respond to a friend’s text.

It’s no wonder that according to this survey teens are spending an average of 9 hours a day on media! Clearly, this isn’t what parents should focus on since the real-time numbers are skewed. Let’s change the dialogue and focus instead on where kids are going online, who they are interacting with, and how they are presenting themselves to the online world.

So what can we do to help our kids, right now? Here are a few ideas and conversation starters.

  • Focus less on time spent and more on quality of media interactions, recognizing that we all need to unplug for a while every day.
  • Teach kids to use technology wisely while recognizing that what they do online today can affect their lives in the future.
  • Remind kids that in this day and age, everyone is looking for them (the same way they look up other people) online and first impressions really matter. 50% of colleges and 93% of employers check online profiles or search applicants online before making admissions or hiring decisions.
  • Educate kids about their digital footprints, because the reality in the 21st century is that not only do they have a digital footprint, they NEED one to succeed in a world where technology is ever-present in our lives.

Want more tips and information about how to create and maintain a strong digital footprint? The Social U can help! Learn your Social GPA™ and take control of your digital reputation at

Julie Fisher, M.Ed., is the founder of The Social U and consults with schools, organizations and individuals through the MJ Fisher Group.  

Twitter: @Julz Fisher, @the_social_u