According to a new study, young people of color are spending an average of 13 hours daily using television, mobile devices, computers and other forms of media – about 4.5 more hours than their white counterparts.

The study, “Children, Media and Race: Media Use Among White, Black, Hispanic and Asian American Children,” is the first national analysis of its kind that focuses exclusively on youth ages eight to 18 by race and ethnicity. The findings will be presented to childhood and telecommunications experts in Washington, D.C.

Co-author Ellen Wartella, head of Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development, says the study should serve as a wake-up call. She notes the difference between media use among whites and blacks and Latinos is growing. The research questions what it means for children’s health and education.

“In the past decade, the gap between minority and white youth’s daily media use has doubled for blacks and quadrupled for Hispanics,” said Wartella to the Associated Press. She said the numbers suggest too many young people have a sedentary lifestyle and risk further exacerbating ongoing problems, including child obesity.

Authors of the report say media in the lives of children is incredibly important. They write, “The purpose of this report is to briefly hit a national ‘pause’ button: to stop and take note of these differences, to consider the possible positive and negative implications for young people’s health and wellbeing, and to reflect on how each of us can respond in our own realm.”

Compared to whites, minority youth spend on average two hour more per day watching TV, one hour more listening to music, 90 minutes more using a computer and up to 40 minutes more per day playing video games.

Asian American use media the most (13 hours, 13 minutes a day), followed by Latinos (13 hours), blacks (12 hours, 59 minutes) and whites (8 hours, 36 minutes). Black (84 percent) and Latino (77 percent) youth are also more likely to have televisions in their bedrooms and eat meals in front of the TV.

Reading for pleasure, however, in pre-teens and teens was equal across races, averaging only 30 to 40 minutes daily. Yet for kids six and under, it was more likely that children of white parents were reading or read to every day. White parents were more likely to set rules for what their children could consume.

Most parents do not set limits on the amount of time children can spend interacting with media for pleasure, says the study.

“Children may turn to media if they feel their neighborhoods lack safe places to play or if their parents have especially demanding jobs that prevent engagement,” Frederick Zimmerman, chair of the department of Health Services at UCLA School of Public Health, told USA Today. “These findings should be a clarion call to minority communities to protect their children’s future and wellbeing by insisting on a right to more media-free time,” he said.

However, Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, says the report illustrates why it’s crucial that minority communities be involved in the political fight to regulate media. Cyril told Colorlines that many young people of color don’t think about the telecommunication and media industries that shape the media and technology they’re using. Minority communities need to be empowered to hold the media and technology industries they help keep in business accountable, says Cyril.

Cyril is not surprised that young people of color use more media. “We’re building up this technology infrastructure to avoid and relieve stress, and we’re losing public and community infrastructure [that could help youth relieve stress].” Cyril adds, “Recreation facilities are being decimated. Arts programs are being decimated. Basically, all the places a person goes to transform stress.”

The study also shows that black and Latino youth were the biggest users of mobile phones and, along with their adult counterparts are the biggest users of mobile Web technology.

Meanwhile, Colorlines points out that despite this trend, advocates caution that mobile phones aren’t the sole answer to bridging the digital divide. They argue that broadband home connections remain costly and inaccessible and that mobile phones don’t replace the Internet and computers in activities like job seeking.


Pepe Lozano
Pepe Lozano

Chicagoan Pepe Lozano was a staff writer with the People's World through 2014. He comes from an activist family and has lived on the city's southwest side in a predominantly Mexican-American community his whole life. Lozano now works as a union organizer.