Watching What They Watch
In the trailer for Judd Apatow's This is 40, we see the family sitting around a picnic table when the mother turns to her daughter and says, "We've decided to cut back on all the electronics we use." The daughter protests.
Dad: You need to get outside more.
Mom: Build a fort.
Daughter: Do what in the fort?
Mom: You need to develop your imagination.
Like many of us, they're grasping to control one of the most unwieldy aspects of contemporary parenting: American media.
It's both a tool and a tyrant. When my three-year-old sings along to The Sound of Music, I take pleasure knowing she's enjoying a classic film, but when she throws a fit when it's time to turn off a Kipper the Dog cartoon, I'm overwhelmed by her near-addictive behavior.
I worked in the film and TV production industry for a decade, I even studied and taught media literacy, but now as a parent I struggle to manage the media in my home. What's appropriate for my kid to watch? Starting at what age? For how long?
Especially in Christian circles, I hear plenty of pontificating on the evils of American entertainment, but as a parent, what I need most is realistic advice for the world I live in. Most of us are not going to burn our TVs. Most of us need a positive and practical model for how to raise "media wise" kids. That model should address not just the content of what we show our kids, but also the form it comes in and how it's made. That's why media literacy matters.
(I'm focusing here on TV and videos for children between about 3 and 10. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't recommend TV viewing for kids under 3 and the 11 to 17-age kids require a different conversation.)
9 Tips for Media-Literate Families
When selecting programming….
1. Disregard labels: Phrases like "educational video" or "kid video" shouldn't be a green light, necessarily. Pediatricians will tell you that children learn best through tactile experience and interpersonal contact. No matter how many PBS logos you see, videos are a passive medium, not an active one, and an entertainment medium, not an educational one. Videos are a supplement to learning, not a substitute.
More importantly, labels pertain to content (violence or other inappropriate content), not form. Keep in mind that form can be violent for a little developing brain, if the video is excessively fast or frenetic.
2. Watch the cut rate: Pay attention to how fast the video moves. The faster the cut rate—more edits or image changes per minute—the more frenetic the video, and the more frenetic the video, the more difficulty your child will have tracking the story. Generally speaking, the younger the child, the slower the cut rate.
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