Posts Tagged ‘ gender ’

Does Excessive TV Viewing Cause Low Self-Esteem (Unless You Are A White Boy)?

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

A provocative study has shown that excessive TV viewing in 2nd – 4th graders is associated with lower self-esteem for Black girls, White girls, Black boys … but not White boys. So what’s going on here? 

Well, let’s first consider the research design. This study analyzed kids’ reports of their TV viewing habits – specifically how much TV they watched – and their self-reports of self-esteem. Kids of this age are typically able to report on both of these things with good accuracy. There was a “small to moderate” statistical association between the amount of TV watched and lower levels of self-esteem  - except for the boys who were White. This association was primarily contemporaneous – it wasn’t observed across a 1-year period. So keep in mind that, as the authors of the study note in their journal article, these kinds of data cannot be used to assume causation. We don’t know what’s driving what. But that said, there are still some really important points for parents to consider as they observe their kids’ TV viewing habits, and how what they see on TV might be reinforcing stereotypes about race and gender.

To get at these take-home messages, I had an opportunity to speak via phone with Dr. Nicole Martins, a professor at Indiana University and one of the authors of the study. She suggested three big points for parents to consider:

1) In general, TV is not inherently good or bad. Rather, parents have an obligation to set limits on the amount of viewing that kids do and should consider how excessive viewing may affect them. She made the interesting observation that too much TV viewing may inhibit kids from doing other things that may improve their self-esteem. Think about this – if a kid is watching 40 hours of television a week (as some kids in this study reported), that can cut into time that could be spent doing other more productive things, like playing, participating in sports, learning a musical instrument, spending time with friends, and reading. All of these activities can build kids’ confidence and improve the way they think about themselves. So, that may be one reason why this study found a link between amount of TV watched and lower self-esteem.

2) It’s important to acknowledge that the study did not examine the content of what kids watched on TV. But lots of other studies have shown that the majority of shows for kids provide very positive – perhaps even entitled – role models for White boys. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the other kids studied – in general, there is a lack of positive Black role models for kids on most shows, and shows often have unrealistic role models for White girls (think about how a character on a show may be played by a girl who is 5 years older than the character). Dr. Martins suggests that parents become familiar with the shows their kids watch and consider what kinds of messages the shows may be delivering about race and gender.

3) Dr. Martins also encouraged parents to actively discuss the shows with their kids, specifically from the lens of what kind of messages are being delivered about race and gender. What I found informative about her perspective was that she is not suggesting that parents necessarily censor shows (unless they seem especially inappropriate), but rather treat them as a platform for discussion with their kids. This would give you an opportunity to get some more insight into how your kids think about themselves, especially in light of the messages that they receive from media. In addition, it may also be a chance for you to make sure they don’t form stereotypical conceptions about race and gender.

As Dr. Martins suggested to me, young kids sometimes have difficulties distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Some shows may give them a very distorted view of reality and provide them with inappropriate messages about race and gender – which in many cases can reinforce negative self-esteem for girls, and for Black children. The opportunity for parents is to use these shows to have informed talks with their kids about these topics and take on some complicated issues about race, gender and stereotyping – and, most importantly, consider how their kids are forming conceptions of themselves and how they fit into the world.

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The Single-Sex Education Debate: Sorting Through The Issues For Parents

Friday, October 7th, 2011

The pros and cons of single-sex education have received intensive coverage of late. That said, many parents might still feel confused about the issues and the bottom line. So I decided to get guidance from an expert to help me determine the take-home messages for parents.

I spoke at length with Dr. Rosemary Salomone, who is the Kenneth Wang Professor of Law at St. John’s University. She has written many influential books on education – including her award winning “Same, Different, Equal: Rethinking Single-Sex Schooling”  – and is a leading expert on single-sex education and so recognized in educational, legal, and government circles. Here are some of the issues I raised with her, and my take-away messages based on our conversation. 

Are there definitive studies that demonstrate that single-sex education is either good or bad for kids?

No. There are a number of imperfect studies that gather data that either partially support or refute some of the claims made for or against single-sex education.

So what should a parent think when they read extreme claims (either pro or con single-sex education)?

Keep in mind that many times people grab certain studies to support their claims without giving a balanced picture of the evidence to date (including the evidence that does not support their claims). It’s a mixed bag and we can’t expect the imperfect science that exists to resolve the issues right now.

What exactly are the issues?

Many of the discussions right now focus on the legality of offering single-sex education as an option (it has to be voluntary) within a public school system (private or independent schools can do what they want). In order for the law to support this, there needs to be “persuasive justification” that it is accomplishing something beneficial. That’s what people are debating. Many arguments supporting single-sex education rely on contentions that girls and boys have very different brains and learn very differently. In general, these are not well supported scientifically and are very simplistic (the fact is many girls and boys learn in essentially the same way). That said, many people who are opposed to single-sex education only look at very narrow indicators of success such as test scores. It is important to examine if, for example, single-sex education leads to other important achievements, such as more girls taking advanced math and science classes, or more boys studying foreign languages.

How should parents sort through these issues if they are considering a single-sex school (not just classes) for their child? 

Many of the single-sex schools provide the same benefit as any good school: smaller classes and a positive culture for learning. Are these unique advantages to single-sex schools? Probably not. Are they advantages nonetheless? Many times yes.

If you are considering single-sex education for your child, evaluate the factors you would always consider if you have a choice. What’s the philosophy of the school? What is the size of the classroom? What does the curriculum look like? How do kids do in the school? What is less relevant is the extreme rhetoric about why single-sex education is beneficial (the unsubstantiated notion that boys and girls have profoundly different learning styles) or not beneficial (the unsupported notion that it promotes gender stereotyping). These are complex issues that have not received sufficiently rigorous scientific examination to lead to a conclusion one way or the other.

So given that there are pragmatic pros and cons to any school choice (and you can always find someone who either loved or hated single-sex schools, just as is the case for coed schools), the ultimate bottom line right now is to forget all the stuff being debated and ask yourself the real question: What seems to be the best school for my child right now? And use all of your tools as a parent to answer that question for yourself.


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