Sunday, March 23, 2008

Common sense about children's media

Should the government sharply regulate marketing to children? Or should parents fend for themselves as they seek to transmit their values to their kids?

Your answer may depend in part on how much power you believe parents really have to assess media and put their priorities into practice. Advocates for a strong public policy response tend to believe the media and advertisers are too powerful and ubiquitous for parents to overcome. On the other hand, dogged parents have found for years that the media powers can be beaten. One approach is to avoid commercial television entirely, and to limit even children's videos to rare occasions. This approach may be easier, more fun, and, if you start young, less controversial with the children than you might think (at least through age 7, it seems). However, I can see clearly it is not for everybody.

As an intermediate approach, I have been reading with interest about efforts to give parents stronger tools for assessing children's media and exerting influence over the kids' media consumption. Because we don't have cable, I don't really understand technologies like TiVo, but I gather parents are gaining somewhat more ability to limit advertisements and to regulate channel choices.

On the media assessment side, I see the commonsense media site offers movie and book reviews with a nice clean layout and active community input from adults and kids. For food policy interest, I enjoyed the site's resources on obesity, commercialism, and other topics.

I gather that conservative parents have long had resources for media information that reflect their views on sex, drugs, and foul language. In contrast, the commonsense media reviews have a broader focus on social behavior and commercialism as well as violence, sex, and information about drug use. Even the coverage of the latter topics treats discussion of them as issues of child readiness and parental judgments about age appropriateness, not as taboos for everybody.

[A digression on the origins of this post. I came across the commonsense media site this evening while looking for a review of the The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo, which my kids and I were reading on vacation. Edward Tulane is a china toy rabbit, aware but unable to move or speak as he journeys from each owner to the next increasingly tragic owner. In tonight's reading, the beautiful story took a particularly poignant turn, and I felt obliged to read the rest of the novel myself before taking it up again with the kids tomorrow evening. I wondered what other parents thought. The commonsense media review correctly gave the book a top score of five stars and suggested 7+ years for an appropriate children's age. But, I was surprised that the review didn't mention the novel's Christian themes. I found the novel theologically more mature than C.S. Lewis' Narnia allegory, in which the Christ-like Lion fixes everything so that the child heroes become warrior monarchs. Edward Tulane is more true to the sadness in the original religious story (it turns out to be ironic that we were reading this on Easter). With a further web search, Edward Tulane's allegorical elements seem to be a matter of some discussion on other sites. For better or worse, with no mention of these elements, the commonsense media review seems quite vigorously secular!]

1 comment:

Renata said...

I think regulations should come a bit from the government and a lot from the parent.
Doing without is an important value I want to transmit to our kids, and to live out as a parent. What's the point in limiting advertising to kids if the parents are always going out and getting the newest, cutting edge, stuff without restraint.
Avoidance is a good approach, but it can't be the only one. Eventually, a parent needs to teach the child to think critically (probably not at age 3) about the messages that are presented before them so that they can make their own decisions.