Turn on the TV and what people are likely to see is sex, violence, bad language, blood and gore; connect to the internet and anyone is likely to find pornographic pictures, myspace and the latest teen smack down to be uploaded on youtube. In the face of these things and increasingly graphic explicit video games many parents are not allowing their children to watch TV, play video games or use the internet; Rosie O’Donnell is the latest parent to join in this anti media movement when it comes to kids, who is going a step further and sending her kids to a school with a no media policy. But as more parents remove technology and the latest gadgets from their children’s lives, it begs the question where does that leave our culture heading into this youngest generation? Because it’s not about knowing who Brittany Spears is or Hanna Montana, the latest fashion trend or the latest person to be voted off American Idol, it is about knowing the events going on in our world. No TV means an inability to watch the news, news not found in the local paper and unless parents pay subscriptions to all of the major national newspapers, kids can easily become clueless as to major events occurring in their nation and around the world. For those schools that have opted for a no media policy and the parents who think this is a positive, what they may not realize is they both may be short changing kids, robbing them of vital tools to learn.
By using the Internet children learn to do research, learn to discern the quality of information, learn things not usually available without the media and it aids in learning basic computer concepts; a no media policy may also rob students of tools they need later in life when it comes to career research, college searches and applications along with employment. Many colleges require students to have an e-mail address and in turn the college uses it to transmit campus information including details of campus lockdowns and other crisis information; many employment applications are exclusively on-line. Plus young adults lose out on infinite opportunities if they are unaware and incapable of applying for those jobs that are solely to be found in cyber space.
Further what the combination of no media in the home, no media in the school can create is children who grow up to be adults who aren’t media wise, so when they are finally exposed to it, they are completely unprepared to deal with the concerns that come with it including those that deal with safety. If no media in schools includes newspapers we as a nation better hold on to our hats, especially those who think there is a dumbing down of our culture, because it’s about to get absolutely ignorant, when they have no way to connect to the world or find out what’s happening in it. What no media really does is leave children vulnerable to the predatory nature of the technology; add to that no cell phone, no blackberry then they don’t learn to manage these influences. And, isn’t the better thing to teach kids to balance the cell phone, the blackberry and, at the right age, teaching them about the “evils” of places like Myspace and Facebook? Isn’t it better to become media wise parents and in addition to instilling your moral, religious values as it pertains to these issues, teaching kids why it’s not safe to post information like full name, city, state, address, why it’s not safe to post pictures of yourself on the internet, why if you do post pictures of yourself don’t post anything that can identify you, even something as simple as a school logo?
Exposing kids to the technology at the right time, whatever component, can open up a dialog about some of the current negative aspects, gives an invaluable, teachable moment to parents to talk about what happens if you post drunken pictures of yourself on Myspace, get their take and give your thoughts on things like the teens who lured a fellow classmate to a house to beat her then post it on Youtube. Taking part in the technology gives you a chance to tell your kids that if you post pictures of yourself in compromising positions not only will employers be far less likely to hire you, it’s not only your friends who see it but potentially the entire world.
Then logically we must all ask ourselves what will truly happen if kids don’t learn about these things; the best case scenario is that they go off to college and their grades go down hill, they flunk out because they are bombarded with exiting new things on TV, the internet, cell phones e-mail, instant messages, even display addictive behaviors possibly to the point of needing professional help. The worst case scenario is the child goes off to college doesn’t know not to put everything that can identify who they are and where they live online, next they become the latest tragic young life cut short; isn’t it better to show kids how to handle these things while they are under their parents roof, with parental supervision, a comfortable place to fail so the even worse case, an adult tries an online dating site and is never heard from again, scenario doesn’t become reality? People also need to be realistic about their kids; even if you send them to a no media policy school and do not allow media in your home, it is very probable and possible that they will still be exposed to things like Myspace and Facebook from neighborhood friends, friends of friends. If they feel deprived and feel like they are missing out on something, they will sneak and create a profile on one of these sites and they could be the next abducted child.
In continuing, on an educational level if the trend of a no media policy continues into high school, schools have no impetus to discuss the issues with things like Myspace. Not to mention that above all else schools are supposed to be places of learning not just the things we like but all things and for kids, if they don’t learn it at home and do not have an opportunity to learn at school, they are placed at a disadvantage. This becomes a double whammy to those kids whose parents cannot afford computers or internet and simply live in a no media policy school district and when that continues into high school, students miss out of valuable lessons on appropriate use of e-mail, how to build their own website, how to start a blog, how to start an online business things they can use to begin a career, become self sufficient. Removing media from schools also takes away the many educational opportunities to be found in videos about things like the Holocaust; The Diary of Anne Frank for example, in film can bring words to life. It can also be helpful in driving home powerful points about things like slavery with movies like Amastad, Roots, seeing on film the speeches of John F. Kennedy and/or Martin Luther King Jr. can be great when discussing civil rights, the turbulent decade of the 60’s or showcasing different speech styles for a communications class.
In hearing all the negative, all the horror stories portrayed in the media of the bad things that can happen when using technology, too many forget the good. We forget that there are educational video games that teach math, language and can even help with reading; things like the new Nintendo wii can help kids be less sedentary in their video game play and has even been used in hospitals for patients providing more interesting, interactive physical therapy. If you are looking for less violent games there are those attached to sports, there are those attached to popular books like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings; we forget that video game play can improve hand eye coordination. We forget that not everything on TV is sex, violence and foul language; there are things like PBS, the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, the History Channel. Even local channels have things like Wheel of Fortune and Crossword that can help with alphabet and vocabulary; Jeopardy has a plethora of facts on a wide range of topics. Of those shows exclusively for children and adolescences, shows like Veggie Tales and Jacob Two, Two teach citizenship, valuable lessons on facing your fears and dealing with common issues kids face. Shows like Dora the Explorer and Diego can expose children to other languages or help a primarily Spanish speaking child learn English; there are also shows that teach tweens and teens how to handle disasters, such as bleeding choking, fire, animal encounters, dealing with strangers, even issues like eating disorders, cutting and internet dangers.
Too many have forgotten the fact that shows like CSI have sparked an interest in the criminal justice field including forensic science, shows like Montel that have done segments on abuse and given kids the courage to tell someone they are being hurt. The internet also has positive possibilities besides those dealing with education and employment; it can house basic medical information people, even teens, can take to their doctors, there are even sites geared toward teens where they can ask that embarrassing question they do not want to take to their parents or ask in a health class. Fanficton sites attached to books like the Harry Potter series can entice teens and tweens to write; it can be invaluable to those who have a rare disease only shared by a few in the world who gain support and know they are not alone. Internet sites of this kind can also be instrumental in helping those with illnesses such as depression, help in preventing suicide, by providing a semi anonymous space for people to reveal their problems and find support. Other social networking sites that aren’t Myspace and Facebook can give people of all ages a place for personal growth with the perceived anonymity by creating only a made up user name, can give those who cannot leave their homes a chance for friendship not available without the technology. It can also prevent the now all too common problems with violence; recently a student posted a rap song they created that talked about raping and killing a particular teacher, when seen by another student, it was reported to authorities and subsequently dealt with before tragedy could strike. It can similarly connect children to others their age around the world and perhaps entice them to activism to raise money for charities like the ones that help those in Africa; for those who are dyslexic or don’t have access to the local library, you can download both audio versions of books and e-books along with a host of other positive things for everyone.
Positive solutions also exist for managing the media rather than removing it entirely; TV’s now come with things like the V-chip that can block adult programming and excessive violence. On a practical level, there are things parents can do like not putting a TV in a child’s room, watching TV as a family and discussing the things seen. Concern about television content may mean not having cable or satellite until kids are older. Teaching children the monetary value of things like cell phone minutes, text messages and ring tones or pay as you go phones with only so many minutes can teach kids deal with their technology. Managing the Internet is also very possible; there are very good software programs to block harmful and adult websites from children as well as give a list of the sites visited. Doing things like placing the computer in a public area rather than in a child’s room can cut down on sneaking onto sites that are inappropriate and alert parents to bullying and other issues.
If parents are still apprehensive consider starting or attending a neighborhood, school, or other community forum to discuss Internet issues or educate yourself. Other helpful things can be setting an hour limit as to the number of hours per day or per week kids can spend on the internet, e-mail, text messaging, video games and TV; for older kids setting expectations as to the other responsibilities they are still expected to meet like being at dinner, being in bed at a reasonable hour and completion of homework along with the consequences for not meeting those expectations establishes clear guidelines. For parents who continue to be worried about too much media and their kids, they can still purchase things like Rosie O’Donnell’s book touted as something that teaches how to play with their kids; they can institute no media days or weekends where children are required to unplug and participate in other activities.
Because, in the quest to squelch the effect of technology on kids, in the growing concern that the only thing children get from TV is Hanna Montana and Brittany Spears, that the only thing they get from the internet is predators and the latest teen angst glorified, we forget that we may well be squelching their imagination and natural talents, for website creation, video game creation or research; as much as we are afraid of the pop culture influences on TV, we forget that they also learn about career opportunities such as news anchor, weather person or director. Kids may find their imagination enhanced by the things they see not drowned, inspire them to make their own TV scripts, draw their own cartoons or inspire their own stories. The most important thing in setting rules, limits and expectations in regards to media is talking to kids about the issues found with all technology, let them know that you can and will monitor e-mail, text messages, sites visited and the consequences for inappropriate behavior, let them know they can come to you even if they make a mistake. And remember as long as your child is still breathing, as long as they are one piece, no matter the mistake, no matter the consequences, things can be fixed. Many of the teens who have been victims of cyber bullying, survived Internet predators have gone on to give talks at high schools, middle schools and in their community. But, if the technology is completely removed, it puts kids at risk; it’s a tragedy when children are hurt or lost to threats no one knew, but the real tragedy is when they could be lost due to adults who choose to stick their heads in the sand.