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What are your media values?

Last night I had yet another enlightening, funny, and educational time sitting around chatting with a bunch of homeschooling moms. One of the moms asked the question, “Do you limit your children’s time on the computer?” and the most interesting discussion ensued.

I said that I was happy that my son likes to program when he’s using his computer, because it’s creative. I said I was glad he wasn’t interested in using social media.

The next mom answered that she was very happy with her son’s use of social media — he has found friends of all ages and backgrounds who share interests similar to his, and his facility on the computer makes it clear that he has become more literate than he will admit to.

Another mom said that her family loves gaming, and she’s happy that her six-year-old has taken over the job of doing things on the computer for her three-year-old.

Creativity. Social facility. Independence.

Though we were all disagreeing, we were in total agreement: we know what our families’ values are, and we monitor our kids’ use of computers to make sure that it fits with our values.

I’ve probably written about my personal “aha moment” regarding kids and screen time. When my son was still a nursing baby, we sat down one evening to watch our favorite TV shows. He kept popping off and craning his neck to see the screen. We were dismayed. Then I read some research about very small children and screentime, research that at that point was just coming out. It was pretty conclusive: kids under two, when they watch a screen, literally stop learning. At that age, all the learning they do is through interaction: what does this taste like? what will Mommy do if I pull her hair? does that hairy stuffed animal lying on the rug mind if I pull his tail? Small children’s brains go flatline when they’re watching a screen.

My husband and I decided to pull the plug, and for the first four years of his life, our son had no screentime. Slowly, we worked in an occasion video or movie. But in pulling the plug, we gave ourselves time to decide what our values are, and on the very top of the list is creativity.

We also kept our daughter away from the screen for the first few years, though she got a bit more screentime just because her brother would occasionally watch a video and she would watch with him. These days she still watches more than him (she largely uses it for forced downtime, which she – and I – need).

But when it comes to the computer, we definitely work to enforce our values. With our son, it’s really no work at all. He loves to create, and since he has discovered programming and graphic design, he’s moved from his real-world creativity — paper folding and chart making were two things he did endlessly for years — to a more virtual creativity.

Our daughter has had to be coaxed a bit more. She loves Tumblebooks (free if you’re a member of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries) — books that are online and read out loud while the words light up. I don’t mind her doing this, though she’s an advanced reader and doesn’t need it. So I’ve been searching around for what would appeal to her. We found Edheads.com, a great site that allows kids to interact and explore several facets of science, and yesterday we spent some time with an online virtual heart learning about the different disorders and what they look like physically as well as on an EKG.

Both of our kids love Scratch from MIT, and our daughter loves some very low-tech language software that only runs on her outdated computer. And I found a bunch of great music software sites that I’m starting to introduce them to.

The one thing that everyone at the meeting had in common is that we knew what our children were doing with their screen time, and we were reasonably sure that it was not anything that we think is bad for them. I think that when it comes to media, here’s what’s important: taking the time to define your values, then taking the time to pay attention to what your kids are doing, and above all, knowing that media, like everything children come into contact with, does have an effect on them. [I wrote an article about this for Growing Up in Santa Cruz.]

The other thing we talked about at the meeting was making sure that your kids aren’t doing anything to the point that it’s detrimental to their health. In our house, we do stop our kids from using computers, or even reading or playing a game, if they haven’t been outdoors moving around, getting daily reacquainted with the natural world. Sometimes when they’re really crabby I have to physically get them moving, but we’re always happier in the end.

Each family has its own values, and if we want to feel comfortable with our parenting, we need to figure out how to apply those values to the choices we make.

Posted in Culture, Parenting.


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  1. What are your media values? | Rachna linked to this post on November 10, 2009

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