On Tuesday, the Kaiser Family Foundation released Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds. The non-profit’s five-year follow up to similar reports published in 2004 and 1999 reveal a startling reality regarding pre-teen and teen media use: on average, American children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend seven hours and thirty eight minutes using “entertainment media.” But the study points out that “because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’…, they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes…worth of media content into those 7 [and a half] hours.” Of this time, only 38 minutes are devoted to print media.
The statistical disparity is striking and not at all reassuring. Children benefit from interaction with print-based media; as early as 1998, studies have shown that “the only behavior measure that correlates directly with reading scores is the number of books in the home” (McQuillan 1998). What is a parent to do, then, when faced with the media blitz so common in today’s homes? And, what can parents who live in the Washington area do to increase time spent reading print material?
The simplest answer is to make print-based media accessible and enjoyable. Make a special event out of building a family library and set aside time to read together as a family. Ask older children to read to younger siblings, or invite pre-readers to listen to a story read out loud. Offer high interest reading material like magazines and journals tailored to the interests of those in the home; there are a wide variety of periodicals on just about any subject imaginable. In addition, take trips to the library on a regular basis. Teach children how to use the library as soon as possible and be enthusiastic about your excursions. Take advantage of library classes and programs or create your own with an information scavenger hunt: create a list of items or facts to discover and reward the family with a special treat.
Extend your efforts to bring print-based media to the forefront with trips to local points of interest. Discover the roots of journalism at Arlington’s Newseum, or head to the Library of Congress for a visit to the largest media center in the world. Experience Shakespeare in a way you’ve never imagined with a visit to The Shakespeare Theater or the Folger Shakespeare Library; both institutions offer a host of free or low-cost family activities. In addition to the great attractions in and around the Baltimore Harbor, this exciting Maryland city is the resting place of Edgar Allan Poe, the father of the American mystery. Visit his grave and the Poe House and Museum for a foray into the macabre. Finally, choose a book set in the Virginia, Maryland or DC area and read it is a family, then plan a trip to see the work’s setting firsthand.
Supporting literacy and print-based media in the home is an incredibly valuable pursuit. Children who read consistently perform better not just in school but in life as well. Make it a goal to increase your child’s exposure to print-based media. Your children and your family will benefit tenfold.
Contact Ginny at thewritingwell(at)earthlink(dot)net or visit The Writing Well Online.