Five years ago, authors of a Kaiser Family Foundation study predicted that the use of electronic media by children could not grow much further.

After all, they figured, there are only so many hours in a day.

Boy, were they wrong. The latest version of the study came up with a stunner — young people between 8 and 18 now spend more than eight hours a day using various electronic devices — phones, computers, televisions and other gadgets, up more than an hour a day from the last survey.

Much of that time, the researchers found, is spent “double tasking,” such as watching TV and sending text messages. Or playing a video game and talking on a mobile phone. As a result, the average young person in the study got 11 hours of media exposure per day, according to a recent New York Times story about the survey.

We were especially interested in the stand of Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician who directs the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston.

Rich told the Times that the use of media is so ubiquitous, that it was time to stop arguing over whether it was good or bad and just accept it “like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.”

Air, food, water and YouTube?

We do not think parents should be so complacent.

The Kaiser research also found that the heaviest media users — kids who were using an incredible 16 hours of electronic media per day — had lower grades than the lightest users, those using three or fewer hours per day. The heaviest users were also more likely to be bored or sad, to get into trouble at school and not get along with their parents.

As is often the weakness of such studies, it is difficult to determine whether the problems these children were having resulted from their high use, or whether they fled to media because of their problems. But the result is disquieting, either way.

The study found that more than 70 percent of children have a TV in their bedrooms, and one-third have computers and Internet access there.

Ultimately, though, the researchers were right — there really are only so many hours in a day. The time spent interacting with electronic media is time not spent studying, learning a musical instrument, getting physical activity, exploring the real world or having face time with family and friends.

With an increasing obesity rate and a sinking economy, it is difficult to see how more screen time will make the next generation of Americans either healthier or more competitive in the global economy.

The good news is that parents who do care can make a difference.

The study found that young people living in homes with rules — like no TV during meals or in the bedroom, or who limit the hours of use — do use less media.

It is, without doubt, an increasingly connected, interactive and electronically connected world. But parents need to insist on moderation and balance.

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