Time for the Human Screenome Project Nature Reasons to read: Along with two fellow researchers, Advisory Board member Tom Robinson calls for a project that will accurately capture what people are actually doing on their screen devices.
I’ve shied away from the topic of media violence in this letter because it is so controversial and like most issues now, polarized. However, I am currently reading the new book co-authored by Action Network Advisory Board member, Doug Gentile, Game On! Sensible Answers about Video Games and Media Violence. I was reminded of an incident that occurred 10 years ago as I was delivering a parent workshop.
In 2010, I was presenting my Kids Media Diet program, which helps parents empower children to make healthy media choices. I had been requested to speak to the middle school PTA in my New Hampshire hometown. (Any of you experts know, it’s not easy to be seen as an expert in your own land, even though you can be flown around the globe. I was pleased.) The week of the workshop, our sleepy New England town was traumatized by a horrific murder. Three teens broke into a home and brutally killed a young mother, whose husband was away on business, and maimed her 11-year-old daughter. One of the three perpetrators was a classmate of my daughter’s. The ring leader was interviewed by the press prior to a trial and prison sentence. He stated clearly that they idolized Dexter and copied what they had seen.
Knowing that the parents were experiencing shock, grief, and pain, I addressed the issue gently. They knew of the media reference. They themselves referred to school shootings where the perpetrator had played violent video games in the basement, practicing what he would then carry out.
Why are we so afraid to talk about content when we speak about screen time?
We’re reluctant because of that one parent…That evening, after we had processed the trauma, expressed our fear, and contemplated how it might be related to the evening’s discussion, one mom stood up and boldly declared, “But, we looove Dexter. We watch it as a family!” There is always one. Do you know what I mean? The other parents looked at her like they were watching a garbage truck smash smelly, rotten trash. I didn’t have to say anything. Others asked her if she thought it was appropriate for her middle school son. Had she not heard what we just said? No one was saying her son would end up like the boys in prison. No one was even saying he would become more aggressive or evil. They just wanted an answer to the question, “Is it appropriate.”
In the course of digital device evolution, those of us working in the field can’t help but focus on the ubiquity, mobility, and addictive nature of media. But, losing all sight of content can make our approach shallow.
For generations, kids have watched too much TV. But, past characters became trusted household friends, who brought silliness (my best friend watched Gilligan’s Island reruns every day after school), satire (All in the Family) and yes, education (Reading Rainbow, Arthur, Sesame Street).
Why are we so afraid to say the word ‘wholesome’? Many of us use the junk food analogy-- children are what they consume. Content children are exposed to shapes who they become. Research examined in Game On! points less to a direct link and more to a slow chipping away at character, behavior, and conditioning. Tim Winter of Parents Television Council is a fierce advocate for protecting children from media stereotypes, violence and profanity.
In December, NPR’s Morning Edition marked the 25th anniversary of Friends, explaining that it is the second most watched show on all of Netflix. The piece described record numbers of viewers watching Friends, Frasier, and Everybody Loves Raymond. “Because they were real people interacting with each other without phones.”
Here at the Network, we don’t have to be afraid to stand up for anything that protects children. They will see the world eventually. They will hear about it even when parents monitor content. Even if just for a little while, we have the control to keep their screen time safe and positive.