Children today are immersed in the media culture through television, video, computer games, and the Internet. Screen time is a daily part of family life for most Americans.
The degree to which children are exposed and affected by exposure to the media varies, but few children are untouched by it. Children average 35 hours per week in front of a screen either watching TV and videos or playing video games. This exposure can create special needs which teachers, caregivers and parents need to understand in order to help.
Across the country teachers and caregivers express concern about how the media, related toys and other products affect children in their classrooms. Teachers report increased levels of aggression and more injuries. The quality of play is less imaginative and often imitative rather than creative. Many children confuse fantasy with reality. Some children appear obsessed with specific action figures such as Star Wars or Power Rangers and are unable to focus on other activities.
Young children struggle to understand what they see and incorporate it into their ideas and behavior. Many of the messages in the media can undermine their sense of safety and trust or create the impression that fighting or using weapons is normal and necessary.
Trying to ban media-influenced play from the classroom is often unsuccessful. It also denies children the opportunity to understand what they see in the media. Observing children's actions can help you understand how they interpret what they see. This can guide your efforts to counteract some of the damaging media messages that bombard them.
What Child Care Programs Can Do
Helping children feel safe is a vital part of our role as parents and caregivers. Children must be able to trust their caregivers and they need predictable, secure child care environments. Being part of a community helps children explore relationships and treat others with respect. This sense of belonging provides the security to try new things and to grow and develop.
Offer children opportunities to share and interpret their experiences through storytelling, art, free play or writing. Encourage creative play rather than play that imitates TV shows. Provide materials such as dress-ups, blocks, or play-dough that support imaginative play.
Give children ample time to talk about the events of their days. Helping them describe their feelings and observations is very important. Teach them that their individual voices are heard and respected, and that talking things over can make a difference. These discussions teach children that problem-solving does not require fighting or weapons.
As concern over the impact of the mass media grows, find opportunities to communicate and share your values with other parents and early childhood professionals. Become informed about the issue. Work together on common solutions, the creation of school policy and the raising of public awareness in your community.
What Parents Can Do
Your job as parents is extremely challenging. The struggle to curb your child's "screen time" may initially lead to friction or disappointment. Your child may protest your restrictions on TV programs or videos, or which toys you allow. You may also feel frustrated at what your child is exposed to at shopping malls, the homes of friends, video stores, movie theaters and fast-food restaurants.
Talk about your concerns and develop responsible viewing habits. Before you turn on the TV or the computer, discuss how long it will stay on and which programs are worth watching. An hour a day of recreational screen time is plenty. If possible, watch shows together and help your child learn to be a critical viewer.
When you are particularly busy or distracted, you may encourage your child to watch a well- chosen show. Promote appropriate shows and, if possible, record them or rent videos as children are often interested in watching good programs again and again. When the program is over, turn off the television or computer and suggest a different activity.
Share your values and communicate with others about healthy alternatives for your children. Share your concerns with your child care provider and other parents. Decide on the use of screen time when children visit each other's homes. Share ideas for alternatives to TV and ideas for enjoyable family activities and outings.
How To Help Children Cope
- establish secure, nurturing relationships
- provide safe, predictable learning environments
- provide opportunities for art, drama, storytelling or writing
- strengthen communication between parents and caregivers
- foster children's self-esteem and competence
- teach peaceful ways to resolve conflict
- find ways to make children feel powerful (ex. making a new friend, stopping a fight, helping each other)
- transform imitative play to creative play by providing new materials and activities
Questions To Ask Your Children
Talking with your children about what they see on the screen gives you the opportunity to understand their thoughts, fears or misconceptions. Keep the discussion conversational. Listen to your child. Share your point of view but don't lecture. Here are some sample questions to ask your child:
- What did you like about that show?
- I didn’t like it when ____________. What do you think?
- How can you tell what is pretend and what is real?
- How do you think they made that happen?
- Could anything like that happen to us?
- What would you do if you were in that situation?
- If you were ________, how would you solve that problem?
- Limit recreational computer use to an hour a day.
- Good software for children offers appropriate content for the age or stage of development of the child. Software with multiple levels grows with your children and has longer play value.
- Allow children under 12 to use the Internet only with an adult present.
- Teach children never to give personal information online unless a parent is present.
- Children under the age of two do not need exposure to the computer.
As the holidays approach, look for toys and gifts that encourage creative and imaginative play rather than action figures and accessories connected to TV programs. Here are some suggestions that will give your child many hours of pleasure:
- clay or play-dough
- toy vehicles
- rubber animals or insects
- construction sets (Legos, etc.)
- dress-up clothes and housewares
- collection materials (coins, stamps, etc.)
- art supplies
- realistic dolls
- balls (all sizes)
- playing cards
For More Information...
About choosing and using child care and before and after school care, call the Child Care Resource and Referral Agency which serves your community. To find the number of the CCR&R in your area, call Child Care Aware at 1(800) 424-2246.
Resources For Parents
- Cantor, Joanne (1998). "Mommy, I'm Scared", How TV and Movies Frighten Children And What We Can Do To Protect Them. Harcourt Brace.
- Carlsson-Paige, N. and Levin, D.E. (1990). Who's Calling The Shots? How To Respond Effectively To Children's Fascination With War Play And War Toys. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers.
- Levin, D.E. (1998). Remote Control Childhood? Combating The Hazards of Media Culture. National Association for the Education of Young Children.
- Walsh, David (1994). The Selling Out of America's Children: How America Puts Profits Before Values - And What Parents Can D Minneapolis: Fairview Press.
Resources For Teachers
- Carlsson-Paige, N. and Levin, D.E. (1987). The War Play Dilemma: Balancing Needs And Values In The Early Childhood Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.
- Levin, D.E. (1994). Teaching Young Children In Violent Times: Building A Peaceable Classroom. Cambridge, MA: Educators For Social Responsibility.
The Daily Parent is prepared by NACCRRA, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.
© 2012 NACCRRA. All rights reserved.