Responding To Kaiser's Generation M2 Study

Lots of chatter today around the study, Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds, released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the finding that young people between the ages of eight and 18 devote just under eight hours a day to media consumption (which actually adds up to more like 11 hours of media content, if you take into account all the “media multitasking”). With hefty numbers like these and the rapid increase from the last time this study was conducted in 2004, it’s easy to spin negative a la USA Today and come up with provocative headlines like “Kids less happy as they’re more plugged into TV, music, Web?”

To the piece’s credit, it does use the question as a launching point for a slightly more nuanced discussion around (surprise) moderation and striking a balance between screens and real life, but with its overall cautionary tone, the repeated catch-all description of “media consumption” and “technology’  might as well be replaced with “junk food.” Overall it just struck me as a skewed way a looking at a much more multifaceted relationship between t(w)eens and media.

What’s missing is the flipside of this type of research. Both with the so-called “happiness/media” connection and its brush off of recent studies like Mediasnacker’s The Web Makes Me Feel and MTV Sticky’s Teen Age Clicks: Understanding Global Youth Culture, which cited music, TV and social networks as generating happiness and alleviating stress, and also with the far-reaching positive potential of new media.

MacArthur has also been funding lots of research about how all of this digital media is impacting learning whether formal or informal. Watching a show and then going to a fan forum and posting about it  or interacting with other viewers during the show online is much different than passively watching TV. The old “boob tube” is a thing of the past. Today’s viewers demand that brands create digital channels allowing for engagement, creativity and interactivity. Media companies are being forced to make their narratives “3D” (in addition to the images!). Even playing Mafia Wars on Facebook or being part of a guild in World of Warcraft are arguably forms of informal learning. A lot of screen time is also spent creating and sharing content, engaging youth in ways that passive screen time does not.

That said, can some young people overdo it? Of course (I think we all suffer from information overload). Especially when parents don’t set any limits. Will some young people use “screen time” to escape reality or avoid the pain of real life to a disconcerting extent? Yes, some will, and we should look out for them. Does some multimedia multi-tasking impact young people’s ability to concentrate? Yep, and parents and educators should be pointing this out and helping young people to focus. Instead of sounding yet another alarm about youth and technology, let’s use studies like this to help young people learn to self regulate. And more importantly, let’s not forget all of the positive changes this new media has brought about.


  1. Derek

    You are right Meredith, there will be lots of “kids are media addicts” babble out there today….my take: parents (or teachers, youth pastors, teachers or uncles/aunts) need to talk to kids about the concept of “everything in moderation.”

    This KFF study focused on tech, but teens also need to learn that “moderation” applies to a myriad of other things in life: drinking alcohol, eating too much junk food, managing your finances, driving too fast, spending time together in the car during a family road trip—you get my point!

    Like you point out: it’s up to us to “help young people learn to self regulate” and navigate this flood of new technology in our lives.

  2. DK

    Many thanks for featuring our ‘web makes me feel’ project - can’t really add much to Derek salient points above.

    At the end of the day, real life does has more bandwidth and a balance in all aspects of what we do makes sense :-)

  3. Generation M2 – media for 8-18 year olds &la

    [...] check out Meredith’s take from her really great site, [...]

  4. LG

    Meredith and Derek, I completely agree. Media has certainly brought positive changes, but must be used in moderation. If you get a chance, check out this interesting video that summarizes multiple perspectives about the study:

  5. Kaiser Foundation M2 Study « Stephen's L

    [...] You might want to read Meredith’s commentary at YPulse here. [...]

  6. Generation M2 « Leana Williams's Blog

    [...] the numbers and how high it was, made me realize how muchy today’s youth has access to media and how much they take advantage of it. A person can’t really get around [...]

  7. Ypulse Essentials: ‘MTV Crashes..’, Fo

    [...] Also an Australian study ties "addictive internet use" to depression in teens. Reminds me of our discussion around moderation following the Kaiser Family Foundation "Generation M2″ study)( (New York [...]

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