Over the past few decades, we’ve seen the media permeate deeply into children’s lives. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation report sets the amount of media exposure for an average American child at eight hours per day, more time than with family or in school.
While parents may see this as simply entertainment, in fact children are learning from the media, about language, role models, and values. Once this insight about the media’s impact on our children’s emotional and moral development becomes clear, parents do well to learn about the favorite media creations that grip their children’s imaginations and stir them even when they’re not watching or listening.
How to do this? When feasible, parents can watch their kids’ favorite shows with them, sidling up beside them any evening and quietly viewing. While doing so, parents can ask critical questions of themselves.
- Who are the heroes and heroines of the shows? What are they like? What are their personal strengths? Their weaknesses?
- How are sex and violence presented? Glamorously or otherwise?
- How are topics like drugs, alcohol and deception depicted? As fun? As slick? As consequence-free?
- How are relationships presented? Parent-child relations? Friendships? Romantic entanglements?
All this material the media forms into narratives. Storytelling, a technique as old as the Bible, Homer, primitive myths and fairy tales, has been traditionally used to instill moral values in those watching. So parents should note how the story unfurls its magical net over the child, how the child is drawn in, wrapped in a trance. During these rapt moments, values are subliminally planted in the child’s psyche.