I facilitated screenings of Consuming Kids and Where Do the Children Play? at a conference In Defense of Childhood at City College of New York on March 13. Afterwards, mixed with notes to myself about how to follow up with participants, there was a sense of unease. Later, preparing for the trip to the subway with my rolling case of materials in driving rain and 70 mph winds, I waved good-bye to one of the people who had been in the Consuming Kids discussion and realized what it was. It was an opportunity lost. Here’s how it went:
There was a comment, at the end of the Consuming Kids discussion,that many of the new teachers had themselves been brought up in “media-saturated” situations. The underlying question seemed to be: How will they be able to see the situation, to not think that a lot of media in young children’s lives is the norm and to appreciate the need for alternatives? I sensed a kindred spirit, for this is one of my concerns. Many of the researchers, parents, teachers who are coming into contact with and researching the development of young children have a raised threshold of what they understand as appropriate -consider media as part of everyday life. I shared my experience: that they see media as “wallpaper” – it is just there. There is a need to step back, take a look and question whether they want that atmosphere for themselves and young children. That’s all true. Those are concerns. That is what my own work is about.
So, what was the lost opportunity? Many of the participants there, in that room, at that moment were young. Some were students in the Early Education program, since graduate credits were given for participation in the conference and a follow-up session. They are the experts. Why didn’t it occur to simply ask them what they thought?
True, we were in the media room: great for screening, not so great for sharing. I prefer being “in the round” where we can share and it isn’t as easy to fall into a “question and answer” format. Considering the thoughtful observations those same participants gave during the day, I think we missed some insightful perspectives. Could it be that there was a fear that the answers they would give would be unsettling? Many of the young people I have asked about this stress that they see the interaction with media- from texting to video games – as social, even joyful.
In a workshop I gave at an NYSAEYC conference, a teacher shared that four-year-olds in her class have played Grand Theft Auto before coming to school in the morning. Assuming that no parent would buy that game for a child that age, they were probably in those homes because of older siblings or adults. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2005 study. 83% of kids, eight to eighteen, have at least one video game player in their home, 31% have 3 or more video game players, and 49% have video game systems in their bedrooms (there is a later Kaiser study here). This isn’t a phenomenon that can be ignored.
What will help young parents and teachers see that this is an area where the developmental needs of the child necessitate intentional strategies on the part of adults? Perhaps those new teachers and teachers-in-training who were raised with media and use it for a lot of their interactions are the key. They speak the language of their time and can play an important role in the development of resonant materials. We need to seize the opportunity: study the research, share experience about the unique needs of young children and then embrace the understanding we bring at all stages and collaborate for the good of the children.
Anyone interested in pursuing this, please contact me at Mary@HealthyMediaChoices.org