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Media Analysis Lab
Evaluating the Media Risk Reduction Strategy

Our curriculum was developed to be used in the elementary school system. The pilot project consisted of eight classes of students for a total of 178 students, 91 male students and 87 female students. The students were selected from four different schools in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The students ranged from grade 2 to grade 6. Parental participation was an important element of the project as well, so information packages, pamphlets, surveys and newsletters were sent home throughout the project.

This report has so far described how a group of North Vancouver primary grade students have adjusted to the media saturated lifestyle of today. But the most important goal of this pilot project was also to establish whether a media risk education programme (http: programme description) delivered to primary school children through the schools could reduce the health and safety risks associated with heavy media consumption.

The media education programme was designed not only to communicate to North Vancouver families about the lifestyle risks associated with excessive media consumption, but also to do so in a way that made tuning out the screen a cool thing to do. So how did the students respond to the challenge? Did they actually use media less during tune out week?

Taking the Challenge

The ‘tune out’ challenge was accepted enthusiastically. Of the 121 students who kept a record of tune out week activities, we found that sixty percent of the students reported getting through Tune Out Week without using screen entertainment (TV and VCR, computer games, video games) at all. Girls were slightly more enthusiastic (62% vs. 54% for boys) thought older boys (grades 4-6) were far more successful than younger ones (63%) compared with 41% of younger ones. The opposite was true for girls as 65% younger in grades 2-3 were ‘media free’ compared with 59% of older girls.

Interestingly most students considerably reduced their media consumption during Tune Out Week. In these classes the time devoted to screen entertainment dropped to only17 minutes a day. This amounts to an 80% reduction in media consumption during tune out week for those students in the programme.

Although gender differences were not significant, it was noted that boys averaged 21 minutes screen time during Tune Out, while girls watched 14 minutes. Children in the lower grades watched slightly more than older children (19 minutes vs. 15 minutes) although closer analysis of the gender differences by grade level revealed that it was the grade 2-3 boys who engaged in screen entertainment most during Tune Out Week (29 minutes) while the youngest girls did so least (12 minutes). Grades 4-6 boys averaged 17 minutes compared with the 15 minutes for the older girls. Even the 40% of students that continued to watch and play during the week reduced their screen time to 42 minutes which is still considerably less than the 117 minutes average daily use observed during the audit week.

Displaced Activities

The ‘displacement effect’ was estimated by subtracting the amount of time spent using media in Tune Out Week from that during audit week. The net effect was that students gained 100 minutes a day of leisure time from reducing their dependency on screen entertainment. Those that tuned out gained 35 minutes more than those that didn’t, but all children seemed to benefit from the challenge.

The programme did seem to have a greater impact on the grades 4-6 students who gained 117 minutes compared with 79 minutes for the grades 2-3 students. Those in grades 2/3 that tuned out gained on average 90 minutes while those that didn’t gained only 66 minutes. Those grade 4-6 students who tuned out gained 133 minutes compared with 92 minutes for those that continued to use media.

Evidence gathered in the form of contracts for the ‘Tune Out the Screen Challenge’ revealed that the contract process was important for the success of the challenge: 64% of the children chose to go cold turkey, 29% adopted a ‘controlled use’ approach, and less than 7% ‘opted out’ the challenge. Analysis showed that the ‘controlled use’ strategy was far more popular among the younger students where as the ‘cold turkey’ strategy was chosen by 82% of the older ones who seemed to take up the ‘challenge’ more enthusiastically. It was noted that those refusing to take the ‘tune out challenge’ were disproportionately boys (83%) and also were far more likely to be from grade 2 and 3.
Of those that adopted a controlled use approach, 56% chose to allot themselves a time limit (average 1 hour) while 44% chose to only watch their favourite programmes.


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This is not to say that all those that signed the contract did not use media during ‘Tune Out Week’. But the contract made a difference: Of those that chose cold turkey, 76% made it through the week without media; of those agreed to controlled use, 33 % made it through the week without media; of those that opted out, one actually reported not using the media during the challenge week.

Taken together, the study provided strong evidence that those students who made a greater commitment actually watched less during tune out week (Not participating – 28 minutes, decrease time- 23 minutes and cold turkey time- 5 minutes); gained more leisure time (Not participate- 97 minutes, decrease time- 90 minutes and cold turkey- 109 minutes); and increased their total free time activities more (Not participate- 3 minutes, decrease time- 4 minutes and cold turkey – 4 minutes) compared with those that made no commitment.

The ‘cold turkey’ group consumed media on average only 5 minutes a day during tune out week, gaining 109 minutes of leisure time, and participating in 4.3 activities whereas the ‘opt out’ group consumed 27 minutes and gained 97 minutes, and participated in 3 alternate leisure activities. The ‘controlled use’ group used media for 22 minutes per day on average and gained 90 minutes of leisure time, although this was dramatically different for the younger students (who only gained 64 minutes) when compared with the older students (153 minutes gained). Again it was those ‘opted out’ younger boys who consumed the most media during Tune Out Week (38 minutes).

So what did those who participated in the Tune Out Challenge do with the discretionary time they gained. The analysis of 65 tune out week diaries indicates that sports and outdoor play was the most frequent activity accounting for 34% of their responses. Indoor play and hobbies(19%), eating (15%), homework (14%) and media (8%) accounts for more than half their recorded time. Reading 6%, and just resting/ ‘vegging out’ (2%) accounts for the rest of their discretionary time. Sleeping, travel and self-maintenance time were eliminated from this analysis. It was noted that active leisure is much more common in the after school hours than in the evening.

Evidence from this pilot study showed that all students, whether they used media or not during the tune out week preferred active outdoors sports and play. Since all students gained discretionary time, there was no evidence that those who ‘tuned out’ spent more time in physically active leisure than those that watched, although there was some evidence that those that tuned out completely did undertake in indoor play and hobbies (30% vs 23% of activity responses) and reading (13% vs 7%) more frequently. Overall the impact of the programme seemed to be that all children were willing to try out new activities, or to spend more time doing what the enjoyed most.

The verbatim accounts of their Tune Out experiences give a clear sense of how the programme encouraged children to explore ‘unscreened’ leisure activities more.

Reversing Dependency (* students opted to not participate in Tune Out Week)

Their descriptions about their experience of the tune out challenge revealed that for some kids, tuning out was like breaking a bad habit.

"It was hard without any media, but I still had some fun. First I took out the batteries in my TV, then I unplugged my computer. Then I played scrabble and checkers with my grandpa. Then I played hockey, outside. I didn't watch or do any media today". Grade 5/6 Boy

"I was tempted to go on the computer because my brother was playing my favourite game, but I read a book with my mom to take my mind off it". Grade 5/6 Girl

" Used no media. It's hard but I'm doing good so far". Grade 4 Girl*


Monday" Today was quite strange without the sounds of videogames, the computer, TV, and the radio. I realized that without media, life can be quite fun and entertaining. Instead of using media I read some books, played outside and finished my homework early".

Tuesday" Without media the day seemed longer. I had more time to study for my tests, more time to play with my friends, and more time to read books. I think that the house seems very quiet without cartoons on all day. Doing this doesn't seem so hard" Grade 5/6 Girl*

" I didn't watch TV. I went outside instead. I didn't miss the TV, but I did miss the computer. I played go fish with my brother-it was sort of fun. I also played with my dogs". Grade 5/6 Girl

" I could not help myself from watching TV. But when my mom came home, I forgot all about media tune out. So I watched a little TV, then went outside to wash the car, then went for a walk". Grade 4 Girl*



Creating Alternatives

On the other hand, many children did not find it difficult to find alternatives to the screen during the week and did discover alternative leisure activities were both available and pleasurable.

" I survived tune out week by doing things outside like bike around and play basketball. I didn't like anything on the TV anyway" Grade 5/6 Boy*

" Monday-- It was hard not watching TV, not using media, and this is how I survived. When I wanted to watch TV I just went in my room and I drew on my sketch book. After I wanted to use my computer, I phoned my friends to bike ride or play outside". Grade 5/6 Boy*

" It was really hard for me to survive without media, but I used lots of things to help me. I went outside and played. I also read books. I also played my flute. Because I have a concert. Those are some things I did to get away from media" Grade 5/6 Girl*


Peer Culture

Primary aged students are influenced by their peer culture. If their friends are talking about video games and media then they want to in order to fit in. But if their peer group supports active leisure then being social means participating in those activities too. In the Tune Out Week verbatim we have some evidence that part of the success depended on perception that kids could arrange to do other activities with their friends


Social analysis

"I had no problem without media. My friend Kevin and I started on a rock quiz book. We went outside and took a break from our rock project. We had a great day without media". Grade 5/6 Boy*

" I watched no TV. Instead I played with my friend" Grade 4 Girl

" I did not watch any TV because I wanted to go to the park with my friend then I ended up playing at another friend's house and we made a slide on her staircase. I think tune out the screen media week is really fun so far". Grade 4 Girl*

Other Effects

Interviews with the teachers confirmed that not only did the students get excited about the programme, but that the effect of tuning out had a positive impact on their classroom. One teacher described a calming effect, remarking on the absence of disruptive behaviour as a refreshing change from the usual atmosphere in her classroom. Another talked about the completion of homework and the solidarity that developed in her class as the students coalesced around taking the ‘challenge’ together. The principles review of the behaviour reporting system in EBS schools revealed that there were not incidences of bullying in a school during tune out week, when on average there are x reports.

In order to assess whether reduced media consumption and increased active leisure had any impact on the children’s play behaviour, three observers undertook qualitative observations of about 15 students on the playground during recess at one school. Mostly the students formed into two loose clusters at recess (one group of grade 2-3 students and the other, a group of 5 or 6 boys from grade 4/5. These students were observed on the playground during three separate recess breaks over a period of three consecutive weeks and their activities were recorded for the time period before Tune Out Week (May 28th), during Tune Out Week (June 4th) and after Tune Out Week (June 11th).

As in all groups the gender makeup of the playgroups, the game, and the participants changed constantly over the period of observation making comparison very difficult: yet there is also a degree of routine (controlled chaos) the pervades recess play, because loose clusters of children form regular playful interactions often organized around specific routines. One cluster of 3-5 younger children (grade 2/3) spends most of their time around the swing area while a group of 4-6 boys from grade 4/5 spends their time in the chain bridge area, which is located directly across the swing area. The groups do not largely interact across grade and gender lines.

Over three weeks the younger mixed gender group spends most of the recess time at the swing competing with each other to see who can swing higher or jump farther.

Although physical conflict (pushing, hitting, tripping) is not often observed among these younger children on the playground, aggressive language, shouting and insults were often noted, especially before tune out. Shouting and screaming is a common part of games, and children constantly offer other players both helpful cries of “watch out!” and warnings or threats “I’m going to slay you”. Conversation between these kids is constant, and yelling is a frequent accompaniment to their swinging contests, games of tag, and role-play episodes although aggressive verbalizations are often accompanied by laughing. Throughout the three weeks their conflict remained playful, being more symptomatic of exuberant active games than of regular bullying or intimidation.

It is in these verbalizations of their role play, that media’s impact was sometimes noted. One group who had just seen the movie pretended they were Harry Potter characters all recess. Among the younger group it is not uncommon to here someone to pretend to be a WWF wrestler or shout ‘I am Spiderman’ while swinging on a rope. Their role-play games were largely unstructured consisted of conversations, which contained little real conflict. Occasionally however, conflict from media is expressed on the playground. For example, one child among a group of older boys playing on the swing was using his hands as a make-believe gun and shouting “bang bang” noises. When asked he mentioned he imagined himself to be a Soprano’s hit man he had seen who was taking out someone he didn’t like. During the first week of the project the researchers brought in a CD of movie themes, which included songs from Friends, Pokemon, Hockey Night in Canada and Sopranos. The students in the older classes did not know the Sopranos theme music, but 3 kids from the grade 2 and 3 class knew the theme song right away. One of the boys even sat up straight and in a gruff voice proclaimed 'Oh Yah, I am Tony'.

Among the younger players especially, these taunts, poems of insult, and rhyming rebuffs are considered fun and part of the games these kids play, When not playing or conversing, these children are inventing, negotiating, and enforcing the rules for future play. For example one girl in the younger group spent most of the recess explaining to another how to play a version of what she called ‘Dragon’ tag. The other asked questions about how different situations were resolved. Although they did not end up actually playing the game the rules were now passed on, and several weeks later the girls were noted playing what was called ‘dragon tag’.

Across the swing area is the chain bridge area where the group of older boys hangs out most of the time. This group regularly engages in highly competitive rough and tumble games on the chain bridge, the most frequent which is a version of ‘king of the castle’ where one player holds precarious ground while fighting off others who are trying to knock each other off. They claimed their game was modeled on American Gladiators.

This group of older boys did a fair bit of ‘rough housing’ as they used the chain bridge (part of the playground facility) as their battle arena for American Gladiators. Two of the children sit on top of the beam waiting for their turn while the other two children engaged in a rough-and-tumble assault in which they try to bump each other off the rope that they are holding on to. Two other boys are also waiting for their turn, but also engaging in the play by sitting on top of the beam and swinging the rope to make the game tougher for the two competitors. Even though these boys are engaged in constant physical contact (tackle, pushing) they all seemed to be very happy and no real fighting or any physical confrontation or anger is observed among them.


The need for agreed rules of play is accepted by all on the playground, but occasionally conflict does occurs, resulting from failed negotiations over play, or when individuals break into an ongoing game in a disruptive way. For example, in the first week it was observed that one young boy who always wanted to be “it” intruded into a group of girls playing tag. This generated a certain amount of tension among the tag players. Two girls tried their hand at explaining the rules of their game of tag to no effect. Realizing their tag game was being effectively obstructed by this male player who wanted to turn their game of tag into ‘chase the girls’ a few went to the ‘home safe’ area to have a conversation. Although the players were obviously miffed at having their group play disrupted no physical confrontation or angry words were exchanged. During the three weeks observations although energy levels remained high, there was little evidence of persistent bullying or physical conflict among this group of young elementary.

During week one as well towards the end of recess another incident occurred when a boy from the swinging group (who used a stick as gun and wanted to be ‘it’) became very interested in the older boys game on the bridge. The younger boy accompanied by a friend tried to join in without getting the other players consent to be part of the game by bumping an older player off the rope. The older boys responded more aggressively to this young player, than they have been with each other. Pushing kicking and tripping breaks out as an angry shouting match is joined by the other older players. When the recess bell rang, the older boys ran back to their class leaving the one young intruder crying on the playground.

During tune out week there are only slight variations in both groups play behavior. The children of group 1 remained in their swing area, competing for height perhaps with less shouting and rivalry than the week before. Most of the recess is spent in conversation and teasing. The older group play on the same chain bridge area but this week one of the boys has made a paper plane which he begins flying when he comes out of class. Because the plane becomes crumpled during the gladiatorial contest, the boys break off from the competition to have a funeral for the plane, burying it and then putting a flower on top of the mound. Then several of the boys saw two girls at a bulletin board outside the fence of the playground. They went over and helped them to redecorate the bulletin board until a teacher asked them to come back inside the school ground. The group cooperated without hesitation and continue to converse rather than return to their game.

During the final week of observation, the younger students were in the swing area. A mixed group spends the recess swinging high and chatting. Two other boys are talking to each other while using two swings as beds, rather than competing. Another group were lying on the swing facing down and winding them up to twist them in a circular motion. They then (perhaps dizzy) begin running across the playground and back to the swing. No acts of aggression were observed in either of these weeks and the children seem to be mellower. Yelling and shouting are also more subdued than previous two weeks. No incidences of conflict are observed confirming the teachers suspicions that the groups seemed to ‘chill out’ during tune out week.

Although the data from this pilot study is anecdotal, it provides telling evidence of the potential of this media risk reduction intervention. Once they tried it, reducing media consumption seemed easy enough, and the alternative of active play proved more fun.



To learn about this Risk Reduction Strategy watch this video

Watch this video to learn about teachers' experiences of the project