Children and media: Series summary

Child and parent using a laptop

This post has been long due. If you were following lately, I did a series of posts about children and media. I talked about comparing parent-read book to media-read book, I talked about asking kids what they think is the best tool for learning, and what can they really learn, I talked about using media and computer games to promote mental well-being, and about the role that media (touch screens in particular) plays in the classroom. In this post I want to talk about major points that arose from the series.

Mind you, this series has not even scratched the surface of media and children. There is a lot more to talk about, such as how do we pick the content of the media, how do advertisements affect children’s views, and, of course, the role that media plays in gender perceptions and attitudes. But since June my passion for the topic has waned, so I am moving on to other hot topics, such as when to teach children about sex. Really, that’s the next post. Wish me luck :smile:

Why is Media such a Red-Button Topic?

There seems to be a lot of emotions involved in the discussion about how much screen time is ok for children and what kind of media do we allow children to consume. Why is it such a hot topic? Here I don’t have any research to back me up, just my opinions. Media is the new technology, and as with all new technologies, humans are reluctant to accept it. We tend, as a species, to regard new technologies as dangerous to our moral fabric. Just check out the responses people had to cars and the telephone. I’m just going to note here, because I cannot resist, the irony of a species that is wary of change and that has survived and thrived because of its adaptability. But that’s a whole other blog. We are afraid of change. That’s fine. The question is what do we do with this fear.

In contrast to the fear of change there is the immense promise that iPads and computers hold. The iPad or iPhone is exactly right for personalised learning. I’ve started learning Spanish recently. I don’t even use my computer. I have my duolingo app and it teaches me a new language in 15 minutes a day. I can go at my own pace and do it from my living room while the kids do their homework. It is phenomenal. It even has bots that are supposed to have conversations with you in your new language. The bots are a little less phenomenal. But still.

So to me, it is such a red-button topic because it involves two strong—and very basic—emotions: fear and curiosity. For me, curiosity wins every time. But I am aware that not everyone is like that, and some people take longer to overcome the fear of new things. And this is where research comes in. If we are asking the right questions, we can advance positive change while listening to the natural fears. “What are the bad things about media?” is not a good question. “What is the context in which people learn effectively?” is a good question. “How do people differ in learning?” might also be a good one. If we explore and understand the context in which learning happens, we can find ways to use the technology we have to our advantage, without becoming enslaved by it.

Media is not Inherently Good or Bad

There are too many “media is bad” headlines in my opinion. Because people are more likely to click on a “media is bad” headline than on a “media is sometimes bad, sometimes it’s good, it depends on a lot of factors, and is complicated” headline. Note the irony of clickable headlines about the dangers of clickable headlines. The main thing I have discovered while doing this series is that the popular media is asking the wrong question. “Is media good or bad?” is not a good question. It narrows “media”, for one. And it creates artificial polars. Watching high quality educational TV (think Sesame Street) can have benefits. But watching any TV all day without having human interaction or going outside at all will have many damages. The point is the context and, of course, the moderation.

Media Can Make Education Accessible

In addition to personalising learning, technology also makes learning more accessible. In today’s world, this means a lot. It means that children all across the globe can—potentially—access the best teachers and resources. It means that the monopoly on knowledge is weakening. This, again, has beneficial effects but also some dangerous effects. Because the knowledge doesn’t come from thin air. The knowledge you find online (like this post, for instance) comes from somewhere or someone. And it is now our job as citizens to figure out not only the knowledge we are looking for but also who is giving us this knowledge and why. What’s the agenda. (You can read about my agenda here). Also, if you are not freaking out by what I’ve just said, go check out this TED talk and then this one. Major freakout is guaranteed.

The Take Home Message

What can parents do about it? We are busy people and there’s just not enough time in the day to make sure our babies and children grow up in the perfect environment. And you know what? We can’t. We can’t control everything. So what do we do? We can make informed decisions. And, I think, more importantly, we teach our children to make informed decisions. At home, we talk to our kids about these things all the time. When we’re watching a movie together, we later talk about what the moral was, which characters we liked and why. But we also talk about ads and what they are for and who makes them. And we talk about youtube channels, what they are for, and who makes them. When they ask us to buy an app for them, we show them what we look for: is it online? Is it safe? Is it educational? What is the value? We teach them which questions to ask, and we teach them that they must ask questions. Then we teach them where to look for answers. We, for instance, like Common Sense Media to help us decide which movies to go watch as a family, and so on. And like with everything else the key words are: involvement, moderation, and quality.

@2015 - Gal Podjarny