Posts Tagged ‘ common sense media ’

Parents need to get smart about educational media

Monday, January 27th, 2014

More than half of parents feel their children have learned a lot from educational television, apps and games, according to a new national survey of 1,577 parents of kids ages two through ten that is the first to quantify the amount of children’s screen time that is educational. But the time spent with this beneficial content drops sharply as children get older, even as the minutes they spend with TV, tablets, smartphones and gaming systems increases. You don’t need a math degree to know that’s a bad ratio.  (The study defined educational content as material that is good for a child’s learning or growth, or teaches an academic or social skill.)  ”There’s a need for parents to be more mindful when choosing educational media,” says Vicky Rideout, who directed the study for the Joan Ganz Cooney center at Sesame Workshop in New York City. So what can you do?
Turn to TV. For every subject except math, parents were more likely to report that their child learned the most from TV than from platforms like console games, tablets or other mobile devices. This could be in part due to the fact that TV is still the primary way kids spend their screen time. But it may also be because parents have difficulty finding apps that are truly educational, or because kids gravitate to games they perceive as more fun (those Angry birds are stiff competition for Duck Duck Moose and its top-rated learning apps). Of course you have to choose your TV wisely: In the survey, 96 percent of parents rated Sesame Street as very or somewhat educational. SpongeBob SquarePants washed up at 9 percent.
Beware age 5. It’s the time when kids’ tend to turn away from educational media as they spend more time with mobile devices. Among two to four year olds, the study found 79 percent of media used is educational, whereas among five to seven year olds the proportion declines to 39 percent. The researchers describe the drop as “alarming” and due in part to more use of mobile devices (vs television) as kids get older. Fewer parents felt that their kids learned from mobile  than from television. Which leads me to…
Be a digital dragon There will come a time when your mild-mannered kindergartener suddenly starts caring about what games other kids at school are playing. Many of these will be games that are not only devoid of educational value, but downright violent. You’ll have to set your family’s rules and expectations and stick to them against all kinds of pleading.
Choose kids’ media wisely. Get help at Common Sense Media, which has long rated television and movies and now also rates apps, or subscribe to reports from Children’s Technology Review. More parents in the study felt that their child learned reading or math from educational media; good science and arts apps may be harder to come by. At the CSM site you can search the database by subject category and there are some good art apps listed there.
Don’t give up on books. While 62 percent of kids in the study had an e-reading gadget, about half of them don’t use it for reading. They may like reading on paper better, or this finding may be due to the fact that on tablets, there is stiff competition for your child’s attention. So continue to provide books on paper and expose your child to libraries and bookstores even if you also give her a device for digital reading.
Play and explore with your kids. ”A fair amount of research shows parents and kids engaging with media together enhances it’s benefits,” Rideout says. Whether you’re discussing Sesame Street’s themes with a preschooler or researching robots or iguanas on YouTube or Google with a school-age child, ask questions about what your child is seeing and reading. David Kleeman, SVP of insights programs at PlayCollective, a research group that focuses on kids, families and play, points out that as kids get older, they may learn from sources parents wouldn’t necessarily classify as “educational” at first blush. In one previous study, he said last week at a Cooney Center forum focused on the new survey results, half of American boys reported learning valuable lessons about friendship from SpongeBob. As kids get older and the devices they use get smaller and more personal, it’s still important to engage them about what they are seeing. Who knows? Maybe ultimately this 100 percent digitally native generation will teach us a thing or two?
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Movie Violence Grows, as Ratings Continue to Baffle

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

MPAA Movie Ratings and Movie ViolenceWill you be taking your kids to a movie this holiday season? If so, how will you decide what’s appropriate for them to see?

A movie’s rating—whether it is rated G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17 by the Motion Picture Association of America–is intended to help guide that decision. But a new study, published earlier this month in the journal Pediatrics, finds serious flaws in the rating system when it comes to on-screen violence.

Recent PG-13 movies have contained at least as much violence as R-rated movies, according to the study, while violence in movies overall has increased dramatically: “Our research found that violence in films has more than doubled since 1950, and that gun violence in PG-13 films has increased to the point where it recently exceeded the rate in R-rated films,” the study concludes (emphasis mine).

Making matters more confusing, Entertainment Weekly points out ways in which the MPAA ratings can seem arbitrary. The Dark Knight Rises got a PG-13 despite its violence and dark themes, while the new Judi Dench film Philomena originally received an R (later changed on appeal to a PG-13) for using the F-word twice.

The MPAA defended itself to Entertainment Weekly by saying its decisions reflect the values and concerns of parents across the country—hence, a restrictive rating for foul language. No doubt this is true, and I appreciate such warnings, but what about violence? Are most parents OK with that for young children (or even 13 year olds) who might be drawn to a PG-13 film in part because the rating signals a more mature movie? Personally, I am much more concerned about my kids watching movies filled with violence and its aftermath than I am about characters dropping a few F-bombs (though those do concern me as well). I am guessing I am not alone in this.

The Pediatrics study did find a slight decline in violence in G- and PG-rated movies—good news for those of us with young kids—but the huge rise in PG-13-movie violence is troubling. These movies are not restricted the way R-rated movies are, and the rating is just an advisory.

The study suggests we should be worried about how much violence our children see in movies, because “virtually all scientific and health organizations have concluded that media violence can increase aggression.”

For decades, researchers have studied the effects of exposure to violent media on aggression in children and youth. The evidence from these studies has been reviewed numerous times, and nearly all researchers have reached the same conclusion: exposure to media violence can increase aggression. After reviewing the available evidence, 6 public health organizations (the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association) endorsed a joint statement that concluded: “The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children.”

Where does all of this leave us parents? To state what should be obvious: Do your research and don’t rely just on a film’s MPAA rating. Many great resources, most of them free, offer a more in-depth look at the movies our kids might be seeing, allowing us to make educated decisions based on our own personal values and what we feel is right or wrong for our kids to see.

The best of these services look not just at the potential kid-related problems in a movie—whether it has bad words or exposed skin, for instance—but also explore whether kids will actually like the film (so we can avoid the wholesome-but-boring offerings) as well as how we might use the movie to spark family discussions about important issues. Common Sense Media’s movie review section is one such resource, as is the blog Movie Mom, by Nell Minow (whom I used to edit, in full disclosure). At both of these sites and others like them, parents can find detailed, nuanced, and very helpful reviews that go beyond a mere letter to help us make movie-watching decisions that are right for our kids.

Find kids movies at Shop Parents, or get great family activities with our Activity Finder

Violent Video Games, TV, and Movies
Violent Video Games, TV, and Movies
Violent Video Games, TV, and Movies

Image of dark movie theater via Shutterstock.

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Attention Digital Dragons: You’re Not Alone!

Monday, November 25th, 2013

We’ve had helicopter moms. And tiger mothers. I’d like to propose a third parent type: the digital dragon. You know who you are. Your toddlers still color with crayons in restaurants. Your preschoolers have never logged $249 worth of accidental in-app purchases on your iPhone. Your bigger kids have signed a contract like this to ensure the responsible use of devices. And everyone in the house knows that what you’re screening on movie night needs to be cleared through the Common Sense Media site.

A couple hundred dragon types gathered into a packed room last week to hear Chelsea Clinton moderate a panel hosted by Common Sense Media about how to raise caring kids in a digital world. On the stage: Jim Steyer (founder/CEO of CSM), Dr. Howard Gardner (professor of education at Harvard and the author of the book The App Generation) and Slate senior editor Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones: Defending the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. There were many interesting nuggets, including the fact that a recent report by CSM on kids’ mobile use in America finds that the average amount of time they spend has tripled in the last two years. And that California has passed what’s called the “eraser button bill” which requires web sites to allow kids under age 18 to remove their posts if they want to do so.

But for this dragon lady, the joy of the event was being reminded that I am not alone. Because it can sometimes feel as if I am the only parent who is being called a “jerk” by my kid because I refuse to let him explore the digital universe untethered.  I felt so much more comfortable with my own fire-breathing behavior as the mom of two boys, 9 and 12, when Bazelon, mom of two boys ages 10 and 13, explained her caution with the internet by saying, “I would not open my front door in the city where we live and send my children out and say, ‘good luck.’” Right! Or when Steyer, a father of four, said he is “referred to by my kids as the world’s most embarrassing dad.” Hey, I thought that was my husband!

Don’t get me wrong: I said dragon parent, not luddite parent. I am wholly in favor of kids having access to digital tools—with limits and supervision. And we moms and dads can’t delegate this to the school and expect them to deal with it. Just as it is your responsibility to have the sex talk, it’s also your job to have the digital-safety talk. And the appropriateness-of-sharing talk. And the no-posting-photos-from-parties-not-everyone-was-invited-to talk. And many others. Key is to have these chats in a way that encourages your child to put himself in another’s shoes. As the speakers pointed out, as less communication happens face to face, kids miss out on learning to read the facial expressions and vocal cues that can help them feel empathy. It may be harder, then, for them to know what is hurtful to another child. One of the hardest conversations I’ve had with my kids about the power of a text message started with the words “Imagine how you would feel if…”

One fine place to start the process is by taking this new quiz to assess how digitally healthy your family is right now. And then if you want to meet fellow dragons, consider lifting your eyes from your phone (yes, we dragons can be guilty of major “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” behavior) and talking to parents at your child’s playgroup or school to compare notes. If the mood in the room last week is any indication you will find that even in this age of sharing, many other dragons are struggling and feeling like they too are alone.


Image: Shutterstock

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