Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My blog has moved!

My new blog is at yourmindonmedia.com/blog.

My new web site is yourmindonmedia.com.

See you there!


Monday, January 7, 2008

TV and children's language

I recently received this request from someone who gives presentations about parenting:

"I am writing for some advice: In February I am invited to a private school (K-8) to speak to parents, teachers and students. For the parent presentation, the sponsors have asked me to address the issue of language used by elementary students (I believe these are second and third grade boys) who are telling each other: 'I am going to kill you' or 'I am going to cut you into pieces.' Now, it is my impression that they are getting these messages not from home, but from the media. What advice would you give to parents, besides reducing media exposure AND co-viewing?"

Here's my response:

"Aaahhh! The language issue!! There's very little research about it but it is clearly an effect of media.

It's very clear that kids pick up language and expressions from the media. They can range from nonsense words to profanity. There's no doubt about it.

Avoiding exposure to the offending language is clearly the most effective. However, that's easier said than done. The problem with undoing it once it's heard is that forbidding certain types of language is likely in many kids to increase the likelihood that the language will be repeated . . . On the other hand, it's important that kids know what their parents' values are.

Co-viewing with discussion is definitely better than not co-viewing; but co-viewing and saying nothing is worse than not co-viewing, because it serves as a tacit endorsement. A discussion should be cooperative rather than authoritarian. In other words, it's better to say, 'how do you think you would feel if someone said that to you?' than to say 'that's horrible language.' It's good to have discussions about hostility and aggression in general, and programs that model such behavior can be good 'teachable moments.'

Now, you're not really talking about profanity, but rather violent speech, like 'I'm going to kill you.' To some extent, phrases like have entered our language without meaning. I remember in elementary school, I once said (hearing others talk like that), 'My mother's going to kill me if I get home late,' but not meaning it at all.

I guess what may be important in the question you raise is the manner in which these kids say their aggressive phrases. If the words are said with hostility, then I think it's a problem. Hostile feelings are unhealthy in and of themselves; they often interfere with the development of positive social relationships; and they can fuel and intensify aggressive behavior. So it's important to reduce children's exposure to to media that promote hostility and hostile verbal expressions.

I hope this is helpful."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Exposing Toddlers to Scary Media

A few weeks ago I received the following question from a parent:

A good friend of mine allows her children to view scary movies and images. For example, she will allow her toddler to watch the Michael Jackson video “Thriller.” He will watch it over and over. I feel this is child abuse. I really don’t want her children around mine. Her other son will talk about how a boy's legs were cut of from going down the slide at the park. I know I show tell her how I feel. I’ve read a research paper you wrote on the subject. I feel she can entertain her children with these images, like a babysitter. (I have a few theories of my own)
Any feedback would be appreciated.

Here's how I answered:

Thanks for writing!

I agree that showing scary movies and images to children can be extremely harmful. Some kids become anxious and have trouble sleeping; others may become more violent, more accepting of violence, or less empathic. A toddler is definitely too young to put these images in perspective -- my research is full of reports of children who were traumatized by viewing "Thriller" at a young age.

Some children are less sensitive than others, but you are right to be concerned about the home environment of your children's friends. You certainly should be wary that if your children visit their house, they are likely to be exposed to images that could be potentially traumatizing.

I know that there are parents who think the concern about media violence is overblown. Often these are parents who love to watch violence themselves and might see any information about harm as a criticism of them.

Aside from not wanting your children to be exposed to your friend's choice of media, you probably also want your children to hang around with kids like them, who are sensitive and empathic and not overly attracted to violence. So you certainly are not overreacting if you want your children to play with kids whose values are more like yours.

If, as you say, this person is a good friend of yours, you might want to bring up the issue gently, perhaps with some information and data to back you up (there are things on my web site that might be helpful (e.g.,, http://www.joannecantor.com/longtermfright.html). But be prepared for your friend to be defensive. She may never agree with you, but at least she will understand the basis of your decisions.

Whatever you do about your friend, keep being a wise steward of your child's media use. Your child's physical and mental health will surely benefit.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Children and Recent Mass Shootings

I have been asked by a local television station to give parents advice on how to prevent their children from becoming overly fearful during this most recent spate of highly publicized shootings -- at the mall in Nebraska and at two churches in Colorado. I've been giving advice in the wake of similar high-profile news events for some time on my web site (for example, see my advice after the Virginia Tech shootings).

What can I say for a 2 1/2 minute TV piece?

1) These news stories are not "educational." Kids will not miss anything they need to know if they don't hear about or see these stories, so don't be afraid to shield your child from this information. In general, don't watch the news with your young children in the room.
2) If they do hear about it or you know they will hear about it, describe it to them in the least emotional, most calming way possible.
3) In explaining it to them, try to find as many contrasts you can between your child's situation and the one they've heard about. For example, you could say, if it's true, that nothing like that has ever happened here (even though you know that it could happen anywhere).
4) Talk about what we've learned from the tragedy, for example, that security people are paying better attention now.
5) If a child is frightened, be understanding and give him or her your calm, warm attention. If they are fixated on it, drawing pictures about it may help younger children; writing about it may help older children and adults.
6) Younger children may simply want to get their mind off of it and do something distracting and fun.
7) Remember that television often creates the most intense emotions about these stories because it often shows vividly visual, emotional events. Because local tragedies become national via television, television makes the world seem much scarier than it really is.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Antidote to Violent Video Games?

I just heard the hilarious deadpan comic Dimitri Martin give the following riff:

I love videogames
But they're very violent
I want to design a videogame
In which you have to take care of all the people who've been shot in the other games.

-- "Hey, Man, what are you playing?"

-- "Super Busy Hospital -- 2.
Please leave me alone.
I need to concentrate.
I'm performing surgery on a man who was shot in the head 57 times."

Here's a link to his performance on You-tube


Makes you think, doesn't it?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The devastating impact of TV on individuals and society

Last week I received the following very thoughtful email from a woman in New Zealand. She makes many good points. Let me know what you think of her ideas:
22 November 2007

Dear Joanne,

My very first memory as a child watching a black and white television. The programme was the Lone Ranger, and I hated the series with a vengeance, but I made up my mind as a child that I simply wouldn’t watch TV at all. That caused a lot of problems with the family, because TV was “new” and the in thing. As an adolescent, going to films only happened when I had read the book, and knew the ending from the start. Even now, watching DVD’s, I watch the making of it, the producers tracks, out-takes, and interviews before I watch the film. As I have got older and got into research I realise that the way I felt as a child was directly as a result of the stress it produced, and cortisol flooding my body. I couldn’t put it into words then, but whenever the Television was put on, I’d leave the room, and if it was loud, either go outside or right to the other end of the house.

When we were first married my husband had a television. At the age of two, our oldest saw an advertisement on TV called “It’s moments like these you need minties” in a break during a tame kids programme, something like sesame street… The advertisement showed incidents such as when a sculler’s craft sank before the finish, or a horse tripped on a jump. Those sorts of things. Our son crumpled in a distraught heap, and I needed no further impetus to make a decision. The TV was biffed, and we didn’t get one again, until he was 16,and even then it was just a screen for videos. Two years later we connected to TV and the youngest mainly watched animal planet, the history channel and National Geographic. They never watched the news which was then one of the most violent programmes on the box. The oldest never watched it until he was 20.

We do not have TV now, and I rarely have the radio on at all. I chose to keep up to date with the news by looking at newspapers because I can control what and how much I chose to read.

I believe that TV is a major blight in the lives of society today, and we would have been better off without it. It’s addictive, divisive, couch potato engendering, and literally ruins people’s lives, society, and health, depriving people of properly relating and participating IN REAL LIFE. Children whose only connection with others is discussing TV shows are intellectually deprived, and physically challenged. Our oldest who is mid-twenties, is a professional sportsman and coaches children. There are some schools which he hates going to. He says that the majority of the children don’t have any eye-hand co-ordination; they have no initiative; have lost the ability to think laterally; don’t listen, and dish sass because they are hollow and embarrassed at their inability to get it together, so they act “staunch.” He has nothing good to say about the way these children are brought up, and I suspect he will leave children’s coaching eventually, because the children don’t want to do it, because they can’t. He compares these children with his peers and just shakes his head. Its all the parents’ fault.

To me, the answer is a no-brainer. It’s very simple. Get rid of television. Being there for them is silly. Once seen, something is etched in the mind. I can still picture the Lone Ranger, and I was only five. You cannot erase the memories etched into the brain. Talking the children “through” it is pointless.

If the only means of seeing things you want children to see, is to hire DVD’s and the parents watch them first, so they know the story and what’s coming, then that’s about the only compromise that is sanity building, because you can either toss the DVD, or discuss it in detail with the children first.

Society managed without any “box” of any sort, once, and made their own entertainment. Just perhaps children might have a lot more self confidence and relate to each other better that way, if they learned how to entertain themselves as families and children. The problem is would their parents even have half a clue as to how to entertain themselves in the first place? And if parent have no clue, then how will the children absorb what should be a normal skill of life.

Television has so much to answer for in the breakdown of huge sections of society today. “Managing” it is not the answer. If everyone got rid of their television and started thinking for themselves and getting back out into the community, and re-learning how to live, there would be huge spin-offs, like reduction in crime, increase in community initiatives, like gardens, games parks,… life could be so different if people weren’t mainlining of “television methamphetamine”

Sorry for the rant, but its something I feel that strongly about, and have since the age of five.



Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Role of the Media in School Shootings in Finland

The latest school shootings in Finland repeat horrible events that have become all to common. Another disaffected teenage boy went on a violent rampage at his school, killing himself after murdering 7 students and the principal. What is new is that he apparently posted an anticipatory communication on You-tube and communicated with an American kid who had admitted to plotting a Columbine-type massacre at his school. Both youths are said to have been fans of the violent video game "Hitman." This raises so many issues regarding the role of the media in the lives of our youth, includingthe impact of media violence (both fantasy and real) on aggression; and the viral nature of some of these events that are communicated among teens around the world. Another major issue is the fear that such incidents evoke in children who suddenly are afraid in their own schools. I have posted a review of the effects of media violence on my website. I have also posted information on what types of images scare kids in these stories and advice on how to help children cope.