Born to Buy: Patterns of Media Use

This is the fourteenth discussion in a “book club” series on Born to Buy by Juliet Schor, which focuses on consumerism issues and young children. You can jump back to the first discussion if you’d like. This discussion covers the middle portion of the eighth chapter, “How Consumer Culture Undermines Children’s Well Being,” starting at the subheading “Patterns of Media Use” on page 153 and continuing until the subheading “Statistical Results: Consumer Involvement Undermines Children’s Well-Being” on page 167.

born to buyAs was discussed last time, this portion of Born to Buy focuses in on a very detailed survey of ten to thirteen year old kids in Boston and one unnamed affluent suburb of Boston. In the middle portion of the chapter, the media use and psychological health of the children are laid out but not connected.

Media Use
In a nutshell, the children surveyed watched television for an average of about 10 hours a week (the median was in the 6 to 10 bracket, but a small fraction of the children watched huge amounts of television – 30+ hours a week) and consumed other media sources about the same amount of time, if not more (media sources include videos, movies, computer use, and video games). That means the average child in this survey was spending about three hours every single day either watching television (or a video), using a computer, or playing video games.

For me personally, depending on the content of the stuff that they’re doing and the involvement of the parents, I don’t think this is a overly ridiculous amount, but exceeding it can easily make it so, as can exposure to morally and ethically conflicting material without parental involvement.

Modern life is full of media sources. If you’re reading this, as a parent in the modern world, you’re going to be completely unable to totally isolate your child from them without being hypocritical (after all, given Schor’s definition, The Simple Dollar would be an example of media use). The key, at least from my eyes, is parental involvement.

Take, for example, this nugget from page 153:

We asked only one or two questions about what children were watching and found that 19 percent in Doxley and 57 percent in Boston watch MTV or VH1 regularly., and quite a few watch every day.

This is an example of parental involvement (or lack thereof) in media use. If you’re near a television, flip on MTV right now. I’d say there’s at least an 80% chance that whatever you see on there represents some sort of value that you’d not want to see in your children, and that value is being glorified. If your child watches that stuff without context, then your child is going to adopt those values as being the right ones to have.

Well Being
In terms of well being, most of the children were pretty well adjusted, too. In the study, the children were shown to have a low average level of depression but were regularly bored and sometimes had headaches (but within what’s considered a normal range). In other words, much like the spectrum of media use, most of the children were in a reasonable range, but there were a handful of outliers (15-20%) that showed serious signs of poor wellness.

Similarly, the surveys indicated a generally positive relationship with parents. Again, about 80% of the kids seemed to have a generally good relationship with their parents – trust, love, and at least some mutual respect. The concern, again, is with that 20% of outliers – the ones who fight with their parents over and over again.

It’s easy to conclude from these two studies that there isn’t a well-being problem in children today, and for the most part that’s correct. The majority of kids today are well-adjusted and at least reasonably healthy. The concern, though, is with those outliers – what’s causing them to be out there on the tip? Even more worrisome, is there a connection between media use and personal and emotional problems? This data set is a perfect place to look – it seems to be a pretty normal sampling of kids with lots of data on these issues. Are they really connected? We’ll look at that next time.

The next discussion, coming in three days, will cover the final portion of the eighth chapter, “How Consumer Culture Undermines Children’s Well Being,” starting on page 167 at the subheading “Statistical Results: Consumer Involvement Undermines Children’s Well-Being” and finishing out the chapter to page 176.

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