In Spite of the Media!

In the next few days, I'll be traveling to Boston to attend the 6th Annual Consuming Kids Summit! This important event begins Thursday and continues through Saturday evening. I'll be presenting "Nurturing Creative Thinkers in a Commercial World" on Friday and signing books for a short time on Saturday.

And here's a piece in great anticipation of the conference:

Nurturing Children Who Think, Wonder, and Love to Learn...In Spite of the Media!

“You can’t control the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
- Sri Swami Satchidananda

Recent studies have shown that by the time the average American child is three years old, he or she will already recognize an average of one hundred brand logos. By the age of four a child can become brand loyal for life. By the age of five, the average American child will have spent more time watching television than she will spend speaking with her father for the rest of her life.

Media is a collective force that can be said to be the best and worst thing that has ever happened to us. Despite the best efforts of a few non-profit organizations dedicated to keeping our children safe, targeted marketing to children continues to be ever present in our 21st century lives. This all-out assault on our children's senses and values has escalated dramatically in the last decade. “Advertising to children is a massive, multi-million dollar project that's having an enormous impact on child development,” says psychologist Allen D. Kanner, PhD, "The sheer volume of advertising is growing rapidly and invading new areas of childhood, like our schools."

How does this effect a child’s ability to think, create, and express him or herself?

Over the course of any given year, the average American child spends 2,400 hours in front of media. While media and popular culture, its art and music, can be very creative, it can also be a creativity inhibitor for the simple reason that it means 2,400 hours less time telling stories, dressing up, taking walks, finding and making treasures, and testing their own theories about how things work. Instead, brands they know or toys bearing the likeness of certain characters from television and movies are primarily guiding children. This then limits thinking. Additionally, mounting research points to the detrimental effect too much media exposure has on children, including a link between adolescent male violence and the violent depictions of men and boys seen on television and female self esteem and body image.

What can we do about it?
One thing we know for sure is that media can be and is regularly used as a creativity tool, and many people express themselves through it. As we explore the ways in which we can engage present media tools to deepen creativity, we take a step towards nurturing critical thinkers who are able to negotiate these evolving technologies as adults.

Pop Respite
Removing TV from the lives of children could be an obvious choice. Take time away from the ads, character of the day, and other popular items. Doing so will provide you respite and mental space to think outside those pop items. Many parents report that once they come to agreement about using less television, amazing creative ventures begin to emerge in their children. They play more outside. They read more and their play becomes more imaginative. So, for creativity’s sake, it is worthwhile to reconsider the amount or use at all of television in the lives of young children.

Develop Limits Together
That all said, dictating to children what they can and cannot do does not contribute to the development of a creative, thinking, and conscious spirit. Explain your concerns about media in an honest, non-threatening way. Come up with a time that sounds reasonable for the family to view and use media together. Make a schedule. Keep a media log or diary that tracks how much media each family member is regularly using. Include television, computer use, and video games. Come up with a list of other activities to engage in instead and post it somewhere in your home as a reference. Whatever limits you come up with, develop them together. Once you do, you can then be free to further look at the content of the media by deconstructing it.

Deconstruct Media
Parents can help children rediscover themselves in the vast media sea by helping bring awareness to the messages that are being sent, breaking them down and analyzing them together. With the media you come in contact with, deconstruct it, take it apart and view it critically, together. While shopping, point out product placement and fancy packaging. When coming in contact with ads on television, billboards, other forms of print media or the radio, engage in conversation about who paid for it, what the advertisers are trying to get you to buy and why, and what strategies they are using, such as celebrities or appealing to certain emotions.

Change our Role
As media is such a massive force in our lives, it doesn’t necessarily make sense, nor is it entirely plausible, for us to remove it completely. But we can move from being passive viewers to active users. So instead of always just watching, get children involved in the creation aspect of media. Record newscasts or make your own film. Write family newspapers. Record stories and songs and host your own radio show. Create your own webpages or keep a family blog. While media has powerful potential to create apathy and dependence, it can also serve as an opportunity to enrich thought processes, personal expression, and ultimately a point of connection. So take advantage of the plentiful ways in which families can take personal control of media.

Finding Balance
Media is something we cannot ignore. It is all around us. It is part of our everyday lives. For better or worse, we are a society saturated in it. In the twenty-first century, we use media in almost all areas of our lives so we do need to bring awareness to how that may affect our children. With a balance of its use and a critical eye, the negative aspects of media can be avoided. With awareness, effort, and practice, we can learn to use them to our advantage for the further development of creativity and a child’s critical engagement with the world. Ultimately, we can learn to surf the media waves and stand up for the fact that our children’s minds and their ability to create and express themselves are absolutely not for sale.