Looking back – and forward

Now that my  first – month -of – the – year  cold has passed and my head is clear, I look back at 2010 and realize how much I learned about engaging progressive communities in relation to the pros and cons of media and technology in young children’s lives and the implications of that involvement for their development.  I also see how much I have to learn and how much there is to do.

Interviews with Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, with Muslim, Jewish and Humanist parents and teachers and with Lance Strate, Executive Director of The Institute of General Semantics illuminated assets in those groups that those individuals tap and that can be models for others.

Gnawing question arise.  Listening to parents, even in casual conversation, reveals a deep concern with the influence of popular culture in children’s lives. Parents of older children lament the inability to connect with their children, who seem to be constantly  “plugged in” to some sort of media. We know that these habits start young and grow incrementally if parents are not pro-active.

A focus on early childhood makes sense because of the importance of that time developmentally. The movement to restore play focuses on having, at least, a healthy balance between screen time and active imaginative play. The American Academy of Pediatrics just re-affirmed their recommendation of no screen time from birth to age two and a maximum of two hours of educational programming after that.

Parents, especially those who work from home or who need to use their Smart Phones frequently when they are with their children, are concerned about the models they are providing for their children.

Yet, in speaking with progressive community leaders about members who might like to share their questions through Witness for Childhood, I am often directed to those who have resolved the question of media in their homes, either by eliminating it or restricting it severely. Having come to terms, at least temporarily, with this influence, they no longer have a burning question for themselves or the society in which their children are growing and will live out their lives.

While I see that publishing these “alternative stories” is a legitimate role for Witness, there are many stories of struggle that can be shared to our advantage.

Where are those with a burning question? Is media and popular culture influence on young children considered a “conservative” issue? Since the first, most vocal, voices of faith communities to address the subject were from the “religious right,”  perhaps that is the perception.  That is, from my point of view, tragic.

The goal of progressives examining and engaging in a conversation about the consequences of the intrusion of popular culture into early childhood development is fundamentally different from those who restrict in order to ultimately control. The parents I interviewed may appear to be conservative, since they restrict their children’s access to media, but their lifestyles are pluralistic and open to the interaction with those who are not like themselves. They are not acting out of fear, but out of a sense of having something better to do with their time.

This is also a peace issue. The connection between children’s exposure to  violent imagery and their subsequent behavior has been established. The work of Dave Grossman, detailed in his book On Killing shows that our children are, effectively, being trained to kill each other in the comfort the living room – with the implicit permission of parent.

Are there progressive communities who engage parents and the community at large in the conversation about this issue?  If so, you know where you can reach me: mary@witnessforchildhood.org. Let’s work together to share resources, insights and – questions.

Witness for Childhood brings together voices from many communities, giving perspectives on media, technology and the development of young children.

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