End of the year Reflection

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Media and the Family

After reviewing all that was covered this year, I found the topic of Media and the Family to be very interesting. Especially since I have a family of my own with young children. It was exciting to learn that the first six years of a childs early life are crucial in the formation of neural networks that will support a host of mental and emotional abilities. The fact that glucose metabolism in the brain peaks at the age of seven underscores the incredible amount of neural network development occurring during a childs early years. In other words, my children will learn more in their first six years of life than at any other time and exposure to media during this period can be beneficial or harmful. Children today are being raised and educated in a very different way than from the past or even from the way I was educated. Mass media has become a powerful influence on childrens minds. The power of media helps to shape childrens thoughts, feelings, attitudes, values and behaviors. This is becoming increasingly obvious to parents, teachers, and society in general; it is also well documented in scientific research. There is a growing field of evidence today that media does influence language development, reading skills, problem solving, attention spans and attitudes toward violence, sexuality and responsibility. Some of the statistics I found on the topic of media influence of youth were amazing. By the time our children graduate from high school they will have spent twice as much time watching TV as they will have spent in the classroom. Our children spend more time watching TV than any other activity of their waking lives. The average American child will witness over 200,000 acts of violence on TV before he or she turns 18. 99.9% of households have at least one television and the average American household has 2.4 televisions. 56% of our children have a television in their bedroom. The average child watches 28 hours of television per week. The average child spends thirty minutes one-on-one with Dad, two and one half hours one-on-one with Mom, four hours doing homework and two hours reading each week. This was pretty shocking evidence to me as an educator. Students are influenced so much by the media that it has become one of my big concerns. Children say that watching television is their favorite after school activity. So what happens to that homework that I am sending home with my students every night? How many parents spend time every night listening to their child read for just ten minutes as I ask? Another concern of mine is whether or not these children who spend so many hours watching TV are getting enough parental attention. What types of programs are the children watching and are they suitable for his or her age? Television offers us a world of entertainment, education, news and sports. Watching television is something many people enjoy. It has become an important part of our lives. But some of what children see on television is violence, sex, commercialism, and stereotyping; this worries parents. Children may be exposed to images beyond their abilities to understand and interpret situations seen on TV. So what do we do to help our children interpret some of these beneficial and horrible things they are seeing on the TV? What I have found in my household is that by not purchase cable TV we are left with only three channels and this greatly reduces the choices available as far as viewing goes. This can be good in that some of the more violent movies are unavailable but so are many of the educational shows for children. We also set time limits on when we can watch the television. As a result I have found myself spending more time with my children and not only reading to them more but also reading myself for the enjoyment of it. So what can we do as parents and educators? Be aware that television violence takes many forms and TV violence is a risk factor threatening the health and welfare of our youth. We need to be talking with our children all the time about what they view on television. Ask them questions such as, How do you think you would feel if the violent act happened to you or someone you cared about? Point out how real life does not work the way TV may portray it. Remind them that if a person gets hit on the head with a piano or falls off a cliff they will be seriously hurt or even killed; cartoons are not real life situations. Ask your child why violence is funny in cartoons but not in real life. Another thing to be aware of is that all TV programs have an underlying economic purpose. Mothers may buy a certain toothpaste based on commercials or family shows. Teenage boys want to purchase the expensive shoes worn by the star players in basketball games. And children want to try sugary cereals after watching commercials found on Saturday morning cartoons. I think that we need to ask our children why they think certain commercial are placed on specific programs. When your children see their favorite sports hero telling them to try this food, shoe or other product, ask them if they think the star gets paid to say those things. Would the star really eat the food or choose the shoes for him or herself if he or she werent being paid? Another media device that has many things children should not be exposed to is the Internet. Remind your children that the people they meet on the Internet are strangers. Encourage your children to talk to you right away about anything on the Internet that makes them feel uncomfortable. As with all media, set limits around the use of the Internet. Be clear about your rules and expectations and let them know that you want them to enjoy the wonderful resources the Internet has available. Emphasize that the guidelines you have set up will enable them to enjoy the Internet safely. Their are many web sites that offer activities for the whole family to learn and have fun with. A parent needs to keep a close eye on his or her child while he or she is surfing the Internet. We as parents need to be responsible for what our children are being exposed to through the media. We need to take a hard look at what we feel is good media and what is bad. Many cartoons have an alarming amount of violence in them. Maybe we need to be reading more to our children and not using the media as a type of babysitting device. Depending on age and gender children will get a wide variety of messages from television programs. If your child is going to watch TV watch it with them and discuss important issues. The media can be a beneficial tool for educating our youth but limits must be set and age appropriate material must be viewed.

-- Anonymous, June 01, 1999

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