Senator Clinton's speech to Kaiser Family Foundation upon release of Generation M: Media in the Lives of Kids 8 to 18.

March 8, 2021
Senator Hillary Clinton

As Delivered

Thank you so so much and it's such a pleasure to be here, particularly in a space that is named for one of the people I admire so much in our public life, Barbara Jordan, and I thanked [Drew] for that introduction. I'm anxious to hear his daughter's reaction but we'll see how that comes. I want to thank all the panelists for all their work on this very important issue and particular to thank Professor Roberts and Vicky Rideout for the study that is being unveiled today.

It's also very significant that we have an extraordinary range of viewpoints and experiences represented on the Panel, and I thank all of them. Thank you Common for being part of this, it's very important and Mr. Tascan, thank you for coming. And as well, Jordan Levin and Michael Copps. It's very good to see everybody represented here on this Panel. And I also want to thank Jeff Greenfield for moderating.

I come here, somewhat as Drew does, as much a parent as a Senator. You know, I started caring about the environment in which children are raised, including the media environment, before what my daughter was born, but then I began to take it very personally and in our own ways, Bill and I tried to implement some strategies, some rules, some regulations but it wasn't quite as difficult 25 years ago as it is today. And although I confess, I still wonder what my daughter's watching as an adult, you know, those days of being involved in a direct and personal way are certainly over in my parenting experience.

But it is probably the single most commonly mentioned issue to me by young parents, almost no matter where I go, when we start talking about raising children. We start talking about the challenges of parenting today, and all of a sudden people are exchanging their deep concerns about losing control over the raising of their own children, ceding the responsibility of implicating values and behaviors to a multi-dimensional media marketplace that they have no control over and most of us don't even really understand because it is moving so fast we can't keep up with it. And so I've spent more than 30 years advocating for children and worrying about the impact of media. I've read a lot of the research over the years about the significant effects that media has on children. And I've talked and advocated about the need to harness the positive impacts that media can have for the good of raising, you know, healthy productive, children who can make their own way in this rather complicated world. And I've particularly advocated for trying to find ways to re-empower parents, to put them back in the driver's seat so they feel they are first knowledgeable and secondly in some sense helping to shape the influences that affect their children.

Almost a decade ago, we hosted the Children's Television Summit at the White House, and we worked for the passage of the Children's Television Act. That law led to the implementation of the V-Chip in every new television over 13 inches, and mandated that broadcasters show at least 3 hours of educational and informational programming each week. More than five years ago, I urged parents to become more vigilant consumers of media—and I also urged them if they were concerned about the constant exposure to violence or irresponsible sexual activity that there was nothing standing in their way of coming together as parental groups and in effect producing a consumer's boycott against media which offended their values and sensibilities. And particular, I hear it all the time, many parents feel that way about video games, which were just coming into use in a rather large way and influencing how their children both spent their time and what they thought about. I also appealed to movie, music, and video game producers and broadcasters to come together and develop one uniform ratings system -- one that gave parents clear unequivocal information about the media products they and their children were consuming.

I think we've made progress, certainly since I started talking about this and certainly since we began focusing on it in the White House. But I still hear, as I said, from parents all over who just feel overwhelmed. Walking into your child's room, seeing what Drew just showed us, you know, could be a little daunting, especially when you don't know how to use half of the equipment that's in there. But it's especially difficult for parents of young children who are trying to create some barriers to what their children are exposed to. Parents worry that their children will not grow up with the same values that they did or that they believe in because of the overwhelming presence of the media telling them to buy this and that, or conveying negative messages filled with explicit sex content and violence.

And parents who work long hours outside the home and single parents, whose time with their children is squeezed by economic pressures, are worried because they don't even know what their children are watching and listening to and playing. So what's a parent to do when at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, the children may be at home from school but the parents aren't home from work and they can turn on the TV and both on broadcast and cable stations see a lot of things which the parents wish they wouldn't or wish they were sitting there to try to mediate the meaning of for their children. And probably one of the biggest complaints I've heard is about some of the video games, particularly Grand Theft Auto, which has so many demeaning messages about women and so encourages violent imagination and activities and it scares parents. I mean, if your child, and in the case of the video games, it's still predominantly boys, but you know, they're playing a game that encourages them to have sex with prostitutes and then murder them, you know, that's kind of hard to digest and to figure out what to say, and even to understand how you can shield your particular child from a media environment where all their peers are doing this.

And it is also now the case that more and more, parents are asking, not only do I wonder about the content and what that's doing to my child's emotional psychological development, but what's the process doing? What's all this stimulation doing that is so hard to understand and keep track of?

So I think if we are going to make the health of children a priority, then we have to pay attention to the activities that children engage in every single day. And of course that includes exposure to and involvement with the media.

And I really commend Kaiser for this report. It paints a picture that I think will surprise a lot of parents across the nation. It reveals the enormous diet of media that children are consuming, and the sheer force of the data in this report demands that we better pay attention and take more effective action on behalf of our children.

Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8 to 18 Year Olds shows us that media is omnipresent. It is, if not the most, it is it is certainly one of the most insistent, pervasive influences in a child's life. The study tells us, as you've heard, on average that kids between 8 and 18 are spending 6.5 hours a day absorbed in media. That adds to 45 hours a week, which is more than a full time job. Television alone occupies 3 to 4 hours a day of young people's time. And we all know, that in most homes, media consumption isn't limited to the living room, as it was when many of us were growing up. In two-thirds of kids' bedrooms you'll find a TV; in one-half you will find a VCR and/or video game consol.

We also know from today's study that the incorporation of different types of media into children's lives is growing. And you know, we saw that so clearly in the picture that Drew showed us. In one quarter of the time kids are using media, they are using more than one form at once. So, yes, they are becoming masters at multi-tasking, We know that the amount of time children are spending using media has not increased since the last Kaiser study.

So, today's study suggests that kids are in fact hitting a ceiling in terms of how much time they can spend with media. But they are using media more intensively, experiencing more than one type at the same time. And this creates not only new challenges for parents but also for teachers. I had a veteran teacher say to me one time, I said, "What's the difference between teaching today and teaching 35 years ago when you started?" And she said, "Well, today even the youngest children come in to the classroom and they have a mental remote controller in their heads. And if I don't capture their attention within the first seconds they change the channel. And it's very difficult to get them to focus on a single task that is frustrating or difficult for them to master because there's always the out that they have learned to expect from their daily interaction with media."

You know, no longer is something like the v-chip the "one stop shop" to protect kids, who can expose themselves to all the rest of this media at one time. And so parental responsibility is crucial but we also need to be sure that parents have the tools that they need to keep up with this multi-dimensional problem.

Of course the biggest technological challenge facing parents and children today is the Internet. And today's Kaiser Report goes a long way toward establishing how much media our children are consuming. And one thing we have known for a long time which is absolutely made clear in this report is that the content is overwhelmingly, astoundingly violent.

In the last four decades, the government and the public health community have amassed an impressive body of evidence identifying the impact of media violence on children. Since 1969, when President Johnson formed the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, the body of data has grown and grown and it leads to an unambiguous and virtually unanimous conclusion: media violence contributes to anxiety, desensitization, and increased aggression among children. When children are exposed to aggressive films, they behave more aggressively. And when no consequences are associated with the media aggression, children are even more likely to imitate the aggressive behavior.

Violent video games have similar effects. According to testimony by Craig Anderson before the Senate Commerce Committee in 2000, playing violent video games accounts for a 13 to 22% increase in teenagers' violent behavior.

Now we know about 92% of children and teenagers play some form of video games. And we know that nine out of ten of the top selling video games contain violence.

And so we know that left to their own devices, you have to keep upping the ante on violence because people do get desensitized and children are going to want more and more stimulation. And unfortunately in a free market like ours, what sells will become even more violent, and the companies will ratchet up the violence in order to increase ratings and sales figures. It is a little frustrating when we have this data that demonstrates there is a clear public health connection between exposure to violence and increased aggression that we have been as a society unable to come up with any adequate public health response.

There are other questions of the impact of the media on our children that we do not know, for example, we have a lot of questions about the effect of the internet in our children's daily lives.

We know from today's study that in a typical day, 47 percent of children 8 to 18 will go online. And the Internet is a revolutionary tool that offers an infinite world of opportunity for children to learn about the world around them. But when unmonitored kids access the Internet, it can also be an instrument of enormous danger. Online, children are at greatly increased risk of exposure to pornography, identify theft, and of being exploited, if not abused or abducted, by strangers.

According to the Kaiser study, 70% of teens between 15 and 17 say they have accidentally come across pornography on the web, and 23 percent report that this happens often. More disturbing is that close to one-third of teens admit to lying about their age to access a website.

Back in 1997, the Clinton Administration hosted an Internet Online Forum: Focus on Children, which called for the development of more sophisticated filtering software -- better tools to empower parents to be able to make the best decisions for their children and to prevent their children from intentionally or accidentally straying into areas that are very difficult for the children and the parent to cope with. The Clinton Administration also made a commitment to making the Internet family-friendly by increasing the FBI staff committed to fighting computer-related exploitation of minors by 50 percent, and establishing a task force that specialized in computer child pornography and solicitation cases.

But this problem cannot be solved by law enforcement alone. The Internet is a global online community, one in which it is very difficult to distinguish between children and adults. And let's face it: there is a lot of money at stake. The online adult-entertainment industry generates $1 billion a year in revenue. Plus, about three-quarters of the 400,000 adult-entertainment websites are not even located on our shores -- making enforcement of our laws impossible. This may be a topic for some kind of international attention, but in lieu of that, parents are going to need and deserve more help in trying to protect their children from the dangers of the Internet. Parental control technology exists, but it is underutilized. Today, only one quarter of children with access to computers say their parents use parental controls or filters. And these filters, even when used, are imperfect.

Tools that are available to parents can be highly effective in reducing minors' exposure to inappropriate material. But no filter is 100% effective; they all allow some amount of inappropriate content to be viewed by children. And when children are more tech-savvy than their parents, as is often the case, it kind of becomes a game and a challenge to get around the filtering.

One of our challenges, therefore, is that technology keeps advancing. Media in kids' lives is a moving target. And we need better, more current research to study the new interactive, digital and wireless media dominating our kids' lives. While we know a great deal about traditional media platforms and kids, we know very little about multi-user domains, P2P and wireless technologies. That's why last Congress I worked with my colleagues on a bi-partisan basis, Senators Lieberman, Brownbach and Santorum, to sponsor a bill that created a single, coordinated research program at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. This program will study the impact of electronic media on children, particularly very young children and infants' cognitive, social and physical development. This is another Kaiser report that pointed out the significant effects of media in very young children and that it was not so much the content impact but the progress. You know, I feel like it's back to Marshall McLuhan days, you know, the media is the message, the process has an impact. So we worry about content, but with very young children, we have to worry more about just parking these babies in front this screen with all of this stimulation without very much adult interaction or supervision.

This bill, which we call the Children and Media Research Advancement Act will be reintroduced today. I think it is as important a public health issue as any we can worry about with our children. It addresses the links between media consumption and childhood obesity. Since 1980, the proportion of overweight children has doubled, and the rate for adolescents has tripled. An estimated 80% of overweight teens continue to obese into adult and part of the reason is the saturation experience they have in media.

You know, in the 1970s, researchers estimated that children viewed 20,000 commercials a year. Today that number has doubled. And the majority of these ads are for food, for candy, for cereal, for junk food. And they do influence children's behavior or why would the food industry send you know hundreds of millions of dollars exposing children. Obviously they influence behavior -- anybody who says they don't influence behavior should withdraw the ads and not advertise to children because obviously they're wasting their money. And everybody knows that not only do they influence children but in turn they then influence parental buying habits. And so it's a kind of real whammy. You get the child hooked, you know, into these ads and then the child, if you've ever been in a supermarket with a young child, becomes a very effective advocate just to be quieted in the cart. Go ahead and buy it so we can go ahead with the rest of our shopping.

So what can we do to protect children and help parents? I think the most important lesson of today's Report, as with so many earlier reports, is that parents need to understand what their children are exposed to so that they may take corrective action.

You know, if you hear that there is a child with an infectious disease in your school, you're going to be worried and you might not send your child to school and you're going to call and make sure that this child with the infectious disease has been properly treated and can't be contagious. Well in effect, if you think of this from a public health perspective, you know, what we are doing today, exposing our children to so much of this unchecked media, is a kind of contagion. We are conducting an experiment on this generation of children and we have no idea what the outcomes are going to be. You know, stating the problem certainly doesn't answer it because at the very time we've had the increase in media saturation, we've had an increase in working hours with two parents working, with single parents working. The increase in productivity in the economy has made people work harder and harder. They're away from home longer hours. Many parents commute more than an hour each way to go to the jobs that they have. And the media is their constant companion. But what we have to convey to parents is that the price of that companionship can be enormous. And it's necessary for us to try to help parents regain control and to recognize the public health implications of what we are currently experiencing.

First, I would, once again, like to see industry leaders come together to develop a uniform, content-based ratings system that is easy for parents to understand and use. When I proposed this back in 1999, there were some preliminary conversations but it really didn't go anywhere. The ratings should be shown throughout every program or at least after every commercial break, so that parents can jump into a program at any point and learn what's in it and whether it's appropriate for their children to watch.

Second, the television industry should air more public service announcements, particularly about the effect of television on children and the need for parents to help their children utilize media in the best possible way. I think that this is something which would be relatively easy to do and yet would help to reach a very broad audience. Most PSAs, as we know, are not run in primetime. They're often run after midnight. I think we should do much better to use the prime hours of broadcasting to try to educate parents about how to be more literate, effective media users on behalf of themselves and their children.

Third, food advertisers should be more responsible about the effect they are having on future generations and the effect they are going to be having on increasing health care costs. The single biggest driver other than the cost of pharmaceuticals for increases in health care costs right now is the increase in obesity and the projection out over years of what it means to have children who are now suffering from type-2 diabetes, something that was unheard of in previous generations. We've seen examples, such as Kraft, the maker of such attractive foods such as Oreos and Chips Ahoy and Kool-Aid, which agreed not to advertise unhealthy food to children under 12. I would like to see the entire food industry come together to develop voluntary guidelines that take their responsibility to children seriously. I was pleased to see that Governor Schwarzenegger just announced his support for a ban of junk food in schools. I think there are a lot of steps we can take by the private sector and the public section working together to curb marketing and availability of unhealthy products to our children.

Fourth, we need a lot more research on what works best to help parents monitor what their children access on the World Wide Web. Research from the Pew Center on the Internet and the American Life teaches us that the more control parents have in their homes -- on their home computers -- the more effective they can be at determining what their children can and are accessing. But parents need guidance in using the filtering technologies and understanding the limitations of these technologies.

All of these are voluntary efforts. One could make the argument that with some additional research the case will be conclusive that we are causing long-term public health damage to many, many children and therefore to society. You know, lots of times the response comes back to me, "You know my kid doesn't get all of that, my kid's fine." Well, obviously, certain children are more vulnerable than other children. Children in situations of vulnerability because of family circumstances or neighborhood circumstances may very well be more prey to not only the impact of a multi-media environment but also to individuals who exploit that environment. So yes, we are all of different vulnerabilities, physically and emotionally and psychologically but the evidence is conclusive that on balance the exposure to this much media and particularly to the violent content of it is not good for children and teenagers. And so what I'm hoping is that all we can come together. If there were an epidemic sweeping through our children of some kind of SARS of some other kind of infectious disease, we would all band together and figure out what to do to protect our children.

Well this is a silent epidemic. We don't necessarily see the results immediately. Sometimes there's a direct correlation but most of the times it's aggregate, it's that desensitization over years and years and years. It's getting in your mind that it's okay to diss people because they're women or they're a different color or from a different place, that it's okay to somehow to be part of a youth culture that defines itself as being very aggressive in protecting its turf. And we know that for many children, especially growing up in difficult circumstances, it's hard enough anyway. You know, they're trying to make it against the odds to begin with.

So you know it's not sitting in my home or Drew's home with all the advantages that that brings, with all the work that has been done prior to the age of 16, you know, all of the opportunities that children like ours have had. You know it's so often parents who are at their wits' end. We have a lot of grandparents raising children now. We have a lot of people who are just getting up everyday doing the best that they can. And we're not giving them very much help to make sure that they try to protect and guide the children in their care to become the best of their potential in the future. So I hope we can do more to educate parents on media literacy. I hope the various industries will see that as something that is in the public interest and that they want to participate in. I hope that we can encourage and support the development of technologies of all the great benefits that this media has to offer while minimizing the harm that is done when media fails to recognize that children are not just miniature adults. It is one thing for us to say, that wouldn't affect me. It is hard to imagine whether it would have if you were 8 or 10 or 12 or 16.

So I think we have to begin to be more aware of what our children are experiencing and do what we can to encourage media habits that allow kids to be kids, and that helps them to grow up into healthy adults who someday will be in the position to worry about what comes next in the media universe because we have no idea what parents in ten, twenty, thirty years will be coping with. All we can do is to try to set some standards and values now and then fulfill them to the best of our ability.