Sunday, March 27, 2011

Children and the Media

Children and their exposure (or not!) to media is a hot topic these days, and rightfully so...
How does television programming leave an imprint on our very young children?
I am in no way an expert, but I share with you my reflections, feelings, and experiences...
I grew up in a home where TV was a "treat", usually reserved for the weekend and "bad" weather.
I recall watching "The Wonder Years" while in high school and sitting in quiet reflection in my room afterwards...the show evoked a sense of awe for the days past within me...
I remember feeling upset and very uncomfortable after watching a particular scene in the movie "White Fang". I was ten years old and begged my mother to leave the movie theatre with me. I still remember this emotion well today! Scary movies are becoming more and more frightening, disturbing, and shocking; I've had to make the firm decision to no longer watch them, as they "affect me" way too much.
Children's movies, such as the popular Disney titles, entered into my play as a child. After viewing a movie, my brothers and I would "play" the characters. We were taking our "experience" into our imaginative play, but the characters acted accordingly to their roles. This shuts certain doors to creativity, in my opinion. Damaging? I don't think so....but it does limit.

Our children are bombarded by advertisers attempting to create"cradle to grave" brand loyalty. (Think: Harley Davidson onesies and Football team pacifiers...) Advertisers are smart and motivated; they have even gone so far to put advertisements on a radio station to be listened to on school buses....
A poster displayed at our local Waldorf school...

Movies now make even more money by creating toy lines, clothing, personal care products and food based on beloved characters (kind of odd if you consider that Spiderman, who is so popular with young children is a PG-13 rated film...) Movie producer George Lucas once said, "I'm a toy maker, not a film producer.."
The children I care for during playschool watch about an hour of television while I put baby W down for his nap. They are clearly not "media heavy" children; they'd much rather be playing on their own, this is clear. The children's shows they watch are meant to be interactive... "tell me when you see an apple!" ...."which tool should I use for the job?"...yet the children do not respond or participate. "Dance with us in your seat, everyone!", a character enthusiastically your seat?!
Many shows feature computer animated characters and scenery with real children "super imposed" into the picture. A child pets a cartoon dog on the screen, but his hand hovers 2 inches above the dog. Even the beloved Sesame Street has a segment where Elmo answers emails...the amount of noise, activity, fast paced songs, and baby language coupled with "totally cool" and "rock out!" every other minute is enough to give me a little bit of a headache.
What's more is the real lack of warmth and human connection. The same goes for dolls who talk and toys that make noises or light up at the touch of a button. I'll take it to another level and make a claim against plastic toys in general...again, a lack of warmth and life.
We all know by now that play is essential to development. It's no surprise to me that Waldorf schools often have a policy urging parents to "protect their children from the media"...this means no TV, videos, or computer activities. Radical? Consider that the very conservative American Association of Pediatrics discourages all television for children under the age of 2! Remember those Baby Einstein DVDs? They were recalled for falsely claiming that the DVDs were educational.
We intend to raise W media-free for as long as possible. To me, this means no computer, no television or videos, and no licensed characters/brands. To some, this may seem like a deep seated parenting choice..."don't you think he's going to want a nintendo?", a friend asks. To be honest....not really. I think that he will be busy with many other more engaging activities...playing outdoors, listening to stories, playing an instrument...
Keeping TV and computer screens covered is an idea to begin with if you're looking to cut down on media time...
Yes, this is where I write my blog! My 2005 desktop computer sits on top of a radiator. I don't even have a chair; I sit on an unused toybox---this is an attempt for me not to get too comfortable and spend an excess of time online. Sometimes it works...sometimes my back ends up hurting! Limiting my media time can be a challenge!

I would love to hear your thoughts pertaining to the do you limit your time? Is there a show that you feel is appropriate for young children and why?
Again, these are my opinions. I am not meaning to offend anyone, of course!
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  1. this is something i have ambivalent feelings about. on the one hand i would love for my son to be in a media free environment. i embrace steiner's educational philosophy and want to be in line with his beliefs, but i've never been one to follow another's tenets without blending my own ideas with it. we don't have cable so there is no television viewing going on in our home but ezra does watch thomas the tank engine and a few other shows that we think are appropriate from a dvd or media player. we have bought him a lot of the thomas the tank engine toys and he does play with them often mimicking the dialogue he hears on the shows. i feel like thomas is the best of both worlds because the trains and tracks (that we buy) are made of wood, and the shows are presented in a calm educational story telling format. thomas is a great children's show in my opinion and i love the creative aspect of building train tracks and worlds around them. but, i do wonder sometimes though when more than 50% of his drawings and paintings are of thomas if it is impeding creative mind. he is obsessed with this character and would love it if i dressed him in thomas attire. but i don't. lol... i am drawn to waldorf in so many ways. we are in no way waldorf purists and i'm not sure if we'd even be welcome members of a real live waldorf community. my mom, uncle and cousins were waldorf students in germany. there was and is less stress placed on being strictly media verboten. i hope i can find a school one day that would still accept us and open their minds to the different levels of waldorf followers. i think there are many benefits to being a waldorf purist. i often wish i had the perseverance to follow an explicit waldorf lifestyle. but, i think the way i'm doing things is alright and that i'm still an outstanding parent. but, good for you for being in the waldorf world that you are! it is always inspiring for me to read your posts.

  2. My older daughter (3) has only ever watched small amounts of TV and we have had long periods in our home where we are TV free. I prefer to see my kids out experiencing life rather that being a spectator to the TV. BUT, I have learn't that in moderation, a little TV especially on cold wet days or like recently when we have been living with the consequences of a natural disaster in our city, is not necessarily a bad thing. It does make me sad though to see so many children today who do not know how to play. Who collect like trophies all the merchandise relating to their current favorite program.

  3. I agree with you, in general.

    I watch very little TV, and hardly ever go to a movie. If I had children I would try to encourage them to not "waste their time" with TV and other media.

    However, I've been addicted to a web-cam that is watching an American Bald Eagle family as they laid and hatched their eggs. The eaglets are now about 2 weeks old, and it is amazing to watch nature as it is happening. The parent eagles are so loving and careful with their eaglets. I'm looking forward to watching the babies develop and learn to fly. And, I've learned so much about Eagles! The site is monitored by experts from the Norfolk Botanical Garden where the nest is located.

    The Internet can be a valuable learning tool if carefully used.

    Here's the link to the Eagle web-cam: I hope you will take a peek :-)

  4. We seriously limit our kids media time as well. My older kids hear about alot of stuff at school but don't really ask for much since they know and understand our rules. They actually don't have much interest in the popular music, tween shows, and commercialized products that some of their peers can't seem to get enough of. We have a netflix subscription and our kids watch about 2-4 hours of tv per weekend, none during the week. Like this past weekend, they watched a movie together on Friday evening and 2 episodes of Brady Bunch (they love older shows) this afternoon while my youngest napped. For us this is a good balance and they rarely ask to watch more because we are always so busy, being outside, being creative or playing games together, etc.

  5. My husband and I enjoy TV, we have netflix and a TV in our bedroom. We have the occasional family movie (very occasional). If it were completely up to me there would be no television in our home but, this is my husbands home also and he sees no harm in it. I have seen the negative effects tv has on my son, who is 3. He becomes aggressive and controlling with OCD/ADHD type behaviour while he is normally a sweet, loving and calm little guy. From the emotional outbursts he has had after TV, I know there is absolutely no way it is OK for him.

  6. I had my LO watching no tv till I became pregnant and had severe morning sickness that I could barely leave the couch. The tv became a crutch to help me and her. But even then I limited it to 2 hours a day. Now that the weather is nicer and I am feeling better tv time has gone back to almost zero. I just simply say "no" then I offer an alternative activity for her to do.

  7. Wanted to add, a big thing is we have only one t.v. in our home, in the family room. My child will not have a t.v in her room and I when she is watching t.v. we are watching it together just in case something comes up that i feel is inappropriate for her or something she doesn't understand.

  8. Ahh, the tv dilema (something I think quite a lot about)As much as id like to say we dont have any tv, the older children here also watch about an hour at rest time. There are a few childrens shows that I dont mind, one about gardening, another with yoga (not sure what their called)I also like animated peter rabbit. I love that you make it 'uncomfortable' to use your computer. I need to do that! I use a laptop which is far to convenient (meaning I use it more than I should!)

  9. I actually just posted about this! We are in the midst of moving right now and I've allowed the kids to watch more tv than normal. We do a lot of things like Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Animal Planet. I'm not against TV at all but I'm not for it either. Like everything, I think it should be done in moderation and at the right time. I'm not even opposed to Disney (if its not too scary) or popular shows that might teach a lesson, but at the end of the day there is nothing better than the TV off & lots of imaginative play. Also, I do like to keep it as a treat to form in them lifelong habits of not needing to have it on. They definitely don't watch it everyday. Just like learning to make their bed, their example is me. So if we aren't making our bed, or cleaning our room and watching tons of TV, they will likely do the same, right?!

  10. I'm trying to limit what time the children are exposed to tv - it's become a weekend treat, and even then we're often out doing other things. Day to day the one tv programme I let them watch is 'Something Special' as they both really love learning the new makaton signs. It was something we started watching out of a real need to learn makaton from somewhere, and now we watch for the enjoyment. It's my hope that they'll have a range of signs under their belt but also that watching will help to instill an awareness and acceptance of peoples differences.
    Once or twice every few weeks I use youtube with my eldest to research - finding videos of a medieval banquet for example. When I made the choice to cut out almost all of the tv and computer time I thought my boys were going to miss it, but they haven't at all. Instead they ask to go outside more, usually digging in the garden or over the field to play something resembling cricket.

  11. Oh sweetie, this is such a great post! I realized early on how powerful commercials were when Haley enjoyed watching them more than the shows. Since then I try to limit how much television she watches. Sometimes it's not always easy - like when she's visiting someone's house.
    To get her to understand just how much time she was spending on multi-media, I drew a circle on the five weekdays. Every 15 minutes she'd spend on the computer or tv, I'd color in a quarter of the circle. When the circle was full her time for the day was up. It also helped her to understand time!
    Now we don't have to resort to the calendar. The tv stays off during the daytime, and on the weekends we're so busy as an entire family that she usually doesn't have time to consider any type of media.
    Now if we could work on all those billboards and magazines!

  12. We have no children of our own yet, but several neighborhood children often visit. A visit is more fun when spent playing. They always go home happy and boy do I hear about it :) At work Bear and I are forced to be on computers but at home we turn the TV off and spend the evening reading to each other in front of the fireplace (a tradition we plan on continuing once we have children of our own). Take care.

  13. One thing that I remember being told by my mom and dad when I first had children was that sometimes boredom is a good thing for little ones, because they can find something creative to do. Once I really embraced that idea, it became easier to feel less stressed about entertaining them all day long, and letting those periods where I may have used a television be time that they could find something to do on their own.

  14. We have one telly that is covered in a similar manner to your 'puter. The boys are allowed a film to share at the weekend, and our 6 year old has some supervised on line time, again weekends only. Our 12 year old has a lot more access to the internet as he has so many interests that he is always investigating, and he uses the internet as a research tool. His internet use happens after the littlies are in bed.

    I would honestly quite happily get rid of the tv, and during the week when my husband works away I never watch it. But he likes to watch tv when he gets home from work so I cant chuck it yet!

    I am guilty of using the telly in 'emergencies' such as this weekend both parents have been on a scaffold all weekend and the kids have had to fend for themselves, so to stop my eldest throttling the others I gave him licence to put some films and cbeebies on. Oh and they had biscuits and cake as well, and helped themselves to the fridge all weekend!

    I must say that the difference in their attention span and patience when they have a load of telly like they have this weekend is really noticeable. I have to spend the following few days weaning them off, and just roll with the tetchiness and strops.

  15. We have no tv in our house and this stems from both my husband and I having rather addictive personalities. I tried to cut down so many times in my life, but if a tv is there in the evening, I will watch it. For 15 years now I haven't had one. I have 3 tv shows that I love, one of which ended its final season last week, and I download them and watch them on my computer. So although our daughter has never seen a tv on in our own home, she has been exposed to computers a lot. Both my husband and I use them from work and we both work from home. I am foreign and I communicate with my family on my computer, and my daughter joins in on this when I video skype my family. We work hard at taking steps towards a workable rhythm in our home. Finding balance is one of those things that is ever evolving. Recently we created a "no phones at the table" rule. Unplugging is important, seeing mummy working is important, knowing when the two are not in harmony is the most important... for us anyhow.

  16. We don't have cable, or any TV for that matter. Most of the viewing is via DVD's or a select few shows available on netflix. We're fairly picky about the messages and things the girls are exposed to. Mainly commercials, hate them. In the winter TV is definitely part of our routine. With 2 small children I try to involve them in my activities, or have them play nearby. But certain times of the day I lack the patience/energy to deal gracefully with the fights that break out. Or the frustration of two little people coming behind me making double the mess with their "help". That's when the TV show goes on. At least for little spurts, so I can shower, when I'm baking and opening the oven doors a lot and I need them busy with some thing safe (TV). When I just need some down time. In the summer/warmer months TV becomes less of a part of our day. I love those months. I grew up in a mostly TV-Free home. I have lived many of my adult years with out a TV. But I'm honestly not sure what I would do to survive if we were fully TV-free. TV= space to breath for a bit each day. :0.

  17. We have a tv in our home and we use it appropriately. My littles ones are with me all day and all night - every day of their lives. Tv fits in as well as outside time, rest time, story time, is there when we can't do anything else. I also feel the same way about the violence factor. I do not watch the news or much tv - and because of this I am much more sensitive to our violent world. Why is it that when I watch House Hunters - a show about buying a home - violent movie trailers come on and really shake me up!!! When I am sick and want to watch something for my entertainment and the little ones are around...I go for the nature shows that do not have commercials.
    Little Bear is a favorite show of mine for the littles.
    Namaste, Nicole

  18. What a thoughtful and thought provoking post.

    I admire your drive to seriously limit media, I think that is a courageous and important step you are making as parents.

    We have a TV, but don't have cable, and usually only watch PBS. We do have a family tradition of home-made pizza and "Family Movie Night" on Friday evenings, but often movie means old episodes of Pink Panther or another fun kid-friendly show -- being very sensitive to the frenetic, fast-paced or scary aspects of some!

    You asked about an appropriate show for kids:
    Without question, ever "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." If you haven't seen it since you were a kid, watch it. I love it even more as a grown-up, and just recently wrote a post about it:

    Best to you as you delve into this area of parenting!


  19. You've done a really good job with this. It's something we've been thinking about a lot over the past year or so as we work to help our ten year old find a better balance in her life. The television has gone and we haven't really missed it. Other screens have been strictly limited, which has proved undeniably beneficial to her, but it's always problematic, as there are so many grey areas as she gets older. We just do the best we can to keep the littler one from screens, but again, that's a battle at times.

  20. i do not want the girls watching television. I do not allow any commercials. We have netflix, and I choose the movies or shows they watch. Or they choose based on what I've made available. I do not like any media on during the day, it upsets my internal rhythm.
    I find that well chosen movies and stories create conversation and interests and play. We watch together and only at certain times in our household rhythm.
    I have chosen this path for two reasons. The first is that I like the children to have access to mainstream things and learn to use them appropriately. And I can show them how to go this if I am mindful of what and how we watch.
    Secondly, I think that education includes the arts and culture of our times. Now, my job is to highlight what is art and culture and what is commercialized and mind-numbing.
    these of course are only my opinions, and I give to you to dismiss as you like.

  21. Great post, Rebecca. The last time I was in the States, I remember being shocked at the amount of TV that the children of friends watched. (In many places in Germany, it is also a problem.) While our kids watch minimal TV, they see us on the internet a lot and we're trying to change this habit during Lent by staying off the computer while they are awake.: ) Thank you for raising the topic and bringing awareness.

  22. Rebecca, I totally agree with you. I would like to smash our tv. My husband loves watching any old thing and my daughter would if I allowed it. In fact, that is the thing I take away from her when she needs some "incentive" for good behavior. ;)

  23. I wholeheartedly agree with you, particularly when it comes to very young children. My children do watch t.v., but no commercials, because everything they watch is streamed through Netflix. It's a slippery slope though, with the amount of time they spend watching it. I find that it's just as hard for me to limit their t.v., as it is for them....less t.v. for them often means less free time for me...but it's worth limiting.

  24. Rebecca, you might like to read the book, Endangered Minds by Dr. Jane Healey. Medical evidence and statistics on the effects of media on our children. I have one daughter with Asperger's and there is a definite shift in behavior when she has media at her disposal.

    And I agree, I can't watch disturbing movies, it bothers my spirit:-) I was at my parents one night and caught an episode of Medium--I had nightmares...LOL!

  25. This is a topic I have thought about often. I have an "all or nothing" personality and I have given up television in our home cold turkey many times but then we always go back for one reason or another. I have decided that balance is key in our home. My oldest son did not watch television really at all until I was pregnant with his brother...especially in the third trimester=it was winter, in Canada and I wasn't very creative, energetic or motivated at the time...and he was busy. By the time late morning rolled around I was so tired that the television became more appealing. We discovered Little Bear. I bought all the DVD's and he would watch an episode or two a day (before that it was Mighty Machines which were all about real dump trucks, planes, firetrucks etc) What was different about this show is there is no media product line (which is why I need someone to make the figures for me!:)and the stories are so simple and the characters so loose that I did find them to be inspiring in a way. The friends on little bear would have a picnic, or journey to Hop Frog Pond, or weather a wind storm, or discover Father Bear's trumpet. Soon after I would see Ben picnicking,or trumpet playing and it would then turn into something else...I didn't see it inhibiting his imagination although sometimes it was a starting point in his play. I couldn't find anything negative about the show. It is calm and comfortable, enjoyable for adults as well, it is not too bright, fast and overstimulating, the characters are kind and polite to each other, Little Bear's parents are wise, nurturing and attentive and so we continue, a year later to watch it. I can turn it off and Ben will happily go about playing (not usually in any way influenced by the show) amazes me with his creativity and I don't feel like he has been limited in any way by this experience but has brought me peace in our day and a sometimes needed break from my boy who loves to be right at my side I think this has been a positive influence in our house. Granted it can be hard to leave it at that...I know that the television will stick him like glue and I could use it for another 20 minutes of computer time (The REAL well as smart phones...but with the grown ups...)and have on occasion done this. So I can see how it needs to be balanced and limited carefully!

    When fans of all day Disney channel friends ask about our lack of television (and are also aware of Ben's impressive imagination) I think that it is fair to say that my thoughts are summed up with television is not inherently bad but it provides a child with a limited sensory experience that is easily forgotten and unless it is frightening it rarely remains with them, thus it robs them of precious time to be experiencing in ways that are positively influential. I don't want my child to look back on his life and remember the hours spent in front of a screen and imagine the season of such profound learning and exploring essentially being wasted.

    I will leave you with a blog post I remembered about this time- He is three and a half now...and a little more agreeable then he was back then:)

  26. I found this post via Renaissance Mama. I followed Steiner's principles in many ways when raising my daughter, who is now almost 12, but she was allowed to watch tv. I never limited it for her. Nowadays she almost never turns it on. We never made tv a big deal and so it isn't. Whereas when I was a young teen I was forbidden to watch it, so I would sneak over to my friends' houses and watch theirs!

    To my mind, the computer is just as much of an issue, if not more, than the tv.

  27. gosh, i just love the poster. i'll be making one up for the grandparents. while, we do have a television, we limit the media to one movie a week. i was also playing a yoga dvd but i found the children watching more than participating. it seems media takes away from us living.

  28. I am anxious to go through and read other mamas responses to this. Coming from a background in theatre and tv, I have a bit of a different experience and relationship to that paradigm. However, the brain research that has been done is overwhelmingly clear. I struggle with this topic as well as a large chunk of my family are CHRONIC tv watchers. I have been asked and I quote~ "you don't want them to watch a lot of tv, you don't want them to have a lot of toys, what are they supposed to do? these toys don't do anything. how are they supposed to play with them?".... I welcome the questions as a guide to help me reevaluate and affirm that my instincts are in the right place. but day after day, it can feel suffocating and there are times when I cave for no other reason other than I just dont have the fight in me that day :/ I look forward to moving through this and finding more strength in the coming days by surrounding us with more support for this issue. Blessings ~ sarah


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