Journal Issue: Children and Electronic Media Volume 18 Number 1 Spring 2008
The "Household Media Environment" and Media Exposure
Earlier we noted an explosion in the array of personal and portable media available to today's young people, ranging from PDMPs to cell phones with Internet access, as well as a migration of more “traditional” forms of media to children's bedrooms. Each of these trends facilitates access to media, which in turn affects media exposure. Each trend may also indicate more positive family attitudes toward media and media use than was the case several decades ago. That is, parents who allow or facilitate putting television sets or personal computers in their children's bedrooms, or who acquiesce to or assist their children's acquisition of portable digital media such as handheld video games or cell phones, are likely to hold more positive attitudes toward media and media exposure in general. These attitudes, in turn, may affect young people's media exposure.35
Recent work comparing media exposure times of children and adolescents with and without a television set in their bedroom reveals that easy access substantially increases exposure, even among very young children. One study of children from birth to age six reports that those with a television set in their bedroom watch fifteen minutes more each day, and another pegs the associated increase at thirty minutes.36 As table 3 illustrates, among eight- to eighteen- year-olds, the difference approaches an hour and a half; youths with no TV in their room report 2:04 daily viewing, while those with a TV claim 3:31 daily viewing. It is also important to note that the predictive power of a bedroom TV set is not limited to television exposure. Victoria Rideout, Elizabeth Vanderwater, and Ellen Wartella found that young children with bedroom TVs also spend more time playing video games, and Roberts, Foehr, and Rideout found that among older youths a bedroom TV predicts more video game playing and more video viewing, the result of which is two hours a day more overall media exposure (see table 3). Researchers find similar patterns of increased exposure when they compare older youths with and without a video game console in their bedroom and with and without a computer in their bedroom.37
That the presence of each of these media—a TV, a video game console, a computer—in a young person's bedroom predicts exposure to several different media (hence to overall media exposure) suggests that something more than merely easy access is likely at play. That is, although a TV set in a child's bedroom certainly makes TV much easier to watch, its location in the bedroom also probably points to more positive or accepting attitudes toward media in general. Some support for this possibility comes from evidence that children in households where parents set rules about TV viewing are exposed less not only to television, but also to most electronic media (see table 3). Moreover, to the extent that parents try to enforce such media-related rules, the effect is even greater—in homes where the rules are enforced, media exposure is significantly lower.38
Roberts, Foehr, and Rideout took the “household media environment” idea one step further by identifying “high-television-orientation” households. They classified children and adolescents from homes in which the television was usually on during meals, and was usually on during most of the day even when no one was watching, and in which parents made no attempt to control television viewing as being from high-television- orientation households and found that a full 25 percent of U.S. eight- to eighteen-year-olds lived in such households. As is clear in table 3, young people from high-television-orientation households report substantially higher exposure to each of the electronic media, resulting in more than two hours more daily total media exposure than reported by youth from households where the television does not assume such a central position. In other words, both easy household access to media and a positive household orientation toward media, especially television, operate to increase the time young people spend with media, hence the number of media messages they encounter.