Media Overload? A Look at Exactly How Much Youth of Color Consume

A new study breaks down the significant racial disparity in media consumption, and advocates point out what it means for the politics of media regulation.

By Stokely Baksh Jun 15, 2011

In an age of ever-growing media dependence, everyone wants to know just how much media young people are consuming. A new study from Northwestern University sought an answer, and researchers found striking differences among racial and ethnic groups. They found that young people of color are consuming or using an average of 13 hours of media a day–nearly 4.5 hours more than white youth. 

Compared to whites, minority youth watch TV from one to two hours more, listen to music almost an hour more, use the computer almost 1.5 hours more, and play video games 30 to 40 minutes longer per day, according to the study "Children, Media and Race: Media Use Among White, Black, Hispanic and Asian American Children."  (Rest assured, all groups of youth read for pleasure 30 to 40 minutes a day.) Data from the study was based on two Kaiser Family Foundation studies, a 2010 report on 2,002 8 to 18 year olds and a 2006 study on children from birth to age 6.

Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, said these trends illustrate why it’s so crucial that communities of color engage political debates over regulating media.

According to Cyril, many young people of color don’t think about the telecommunication and media industries that shape all the media and technology they’re consuming. "They absolutely have no idea that there are rules and policies that shape their use of media, like policies that govern children advertising to price gouging and competition," Cyril said. "They don’t know when the costs go up from ‘a’ to ‘b’ and why that happens." 

The study also found that black and Latino youth were the biggest users of mobile phones, correlating with their adult counterparts who, as documented in other media usage studies, are the fastest growing and biggest users of mobile Web technology. Colorlines reported previously 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.

While the report did not study specific programming, it did note the impact that media has on youth and the type of messages they are exposed to. Ellen Wartella, one of the report’s authors and head of the Center on Media and Human Development, says the difference between media use among whites and among blacks and latinos is growing and that the study questions what this means for children’s health and education. The authors wrote that the purpose of the study was 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 well-being, and to reflect on how each of us can respond in our own realms–as educators, public health advocates, content creators, and parents–in a way that benefits children, tweens, and teens to the greatest extent possible."

Cyril argues that it’s no surprise that young people of color consume more media. "We’re building up this technology infrastructure to avoid and to relieve stress and we’re losing public and community infrastructure [that could help youth relieve stress]," Cyril said. "Recreation facilities are being decimated. Arts programs are being decimated. Basically all the places a person goes to transform stress." 

The point for minority youth, Cyril suggests, is not to limit their media consumption but to engage them and empower them with education. By learning about the relationship between the Federal Communications Commission, telecom and media companies, and the Department of Justice, youth can hold accountable the media and technology industries they keep in business.