Never before have parents had to “deliberately and consciously counter many of the dominant messages of their own culture.”
(A synopsis of a Must Read article for all parents of small children)
One day, Gloria DeGaetano found herself with two small children and without a television. She wondered how, as a single parent, she was going to get through a day without its mesmerizing presence to give herself a sanity break.
The first few days were hell. The boys were cranky and hyper, nagging, and complaining, yelling, and whining, fighting at every turn… I decided to do what I thought would be fun. I loved playing pretend so I put on dress-up clothes making dinner as a pirate some nights, as Princess Leia other nights—they loved this—and joined in the fun, creating imaginary characters of their own. We listened to classical music and I told them stories about all the instruments. Books on tape became a magic savior to rescue me night after night, keeping them entertained and calm. After two weeks of this, a miracle happened. My “little hellions” transformed into curious, cooperative, creative boys—of course, they still had their moments—but what a difference!
That was when, some 30 years ago, she started researching the over-use and misuse of screen technologies on the developing brain. Today, Ms. DeGaetano says parents face major and unprecedented challenges. I know these challenges have increased exponentially just in the 15 years since my youngest child was born. Ms. DeGaetano’s recent essay, “Family Media Literacy: An Imperative for Today’s Children,” is a must read for every parent. It’s also a must read if you’ve already raised your kids and you sometimes find yourself wondering what the heck is wrong with parents today… It’s just possible the world is a whole different place for them.
If you’ve ever said, “Parents can just turn off the TV,” this essay will rock your world.
What challenges? For example, corporations undermine parental authority and responsibility:
“Corporations intentionally drive a wedge between the parent and child. Parents who say, “No,” and strive to set boundaries are often seen as stupid and unfair… Parents have to develop warrior spirits to enable themselves to deal effectively with children’s whining and nagging prompted by mass media’s constant barrage. They have to work hard each and every day to become the primary authority for their own children. Kay Hymowitz, an affiliate scholar with the Institute for American Values, reminds us that “parents need to do something they’ve never been required to do before perhaps at any time in history: deliberately and consciously counter many of the dominant messages of their own culture” (2003).
Parents can address the challenges with Family Media Literacy, Ms. DeGaetano says:
“Consciousness, strong intention, and careful attention must take precedent over mindless use and half-hearted rules.”
Using all visual screen technology intentionally is the first, and most important element in becoming media literate. Ultimately as parents we want children and teens to be in control of small screens and not be controlled by them. Research has verified and experts know that a child who mindlessly watches a lot of TV or plays video games endlessly is less equipped to develop the capacities for wise media use. A media literate child, on the other hand, would learn to self-monitor screen time—being able to take it in doses—rather than make a habit of it four-five hours a day. He or she would want to do other activities because thinking, creative children are curious beings and there’s a whole world out there to explore—screen technologies just being one small part of it.