Dear Mark, Post This: Facebook Discontinues Messenger Kids

Dear Mark,

You seem like a nice enough guy. I mean, if you lived in our cul-de-sac and if the wind had blown our garbage can lid off (as it does during high wind season here in the Pacific Northwest) and you heard it clattering around, I think you would go out and chase it down and put it back on securely. Or if you were too busy to do that, you might text me about it. If I didn’t respond in a few minutes, you would understand, shaking your head knowingly, yet kindly, and understanding that since I am of an older generation than you and I don’t roam around with my cell phone as a bodily extension, texting may not be the best way to communicate with me. Shrugging it off, I bet you would go outside even in the high winds and cold rain, to replace my garbage can lid if you heard it clattering in the cul-de-sac.

You’re probably really nice like that. You would have my back. You would make a great neighbor, Mark!

I want to be clear that this letter to you is not meant to replace the terrific one the team at a Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood composed and I, along with over 100 other experts, signed. That letter provides all the relevant research to convince you to discontinue Messenger Kids. I felt honored to be asked to sign it. You would be wise to take the advise of all these experts. Read their books. Ponder their research and ideas carefully. I think you would then come to the conclusion that Messenger Kids is a bad idea for our children and everyone’s future, including yours and Facebook’s

And really…You being a genius, and all, it’s not like rocket science, nor even computer science, nor complex math algorithms, to understand human children do not need your service to be in contact with human adults.

So I am not sure what the National PTA and Blue Star Families were thinking in advising you? Perhaps they are not your best advice givers? Perhaps they are more accurately described as mouthpieces for the industry-culture—the culture families inhabit, but don’t directly create, anymore. Much of our current popular culture is now generated by the businesses of the billionaire culture. You, and the others, whether you know it or not, are feeding us our “signifying system,” a definition of culture that makes a lot of sense to me. It’s from the Welsh scholar, Raymond Williams, who says in his book, Problems of Materialism and Culture, “Culture is a signifying system by which a social order is communicated, reproduced, experienced, and explored.” (p. 39) When young children use Messenger Kids it acts as a signifier system of what is supposed to be important, meaningful to them.

Mark, consumption of Messenger Kids leads to the production of signification by their fragile innocence.

Unless systems by which human meaning, priorities, and values are produced can be noticed, they cannot be thought about, analyzed, or acted upon. I am sure you “get this” Mark, given all the flack Facebook received regarding its role in Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. Messing with the minds of adult citizens is one thing. Messing with the minds of defenseless little children is quite another.

I know. I know what you might be thinking, “But it’s parents’ choice to use Messenger Kids in the first place.” While true in theory of how parental decisions ideally operate, you know, and I know that you know, that the relentless, intentional marketing of how cool we all are when we use our devices and check our Facebook “likes” makes us all pretty vulnerable to your slick mass media carnival barker tactics. Who doesn’t want to join in the fun? And who doesn’t join in wants to be left out? We all want to belong to our culture—whether we directly create it or not.

Your decision to launch Messenger Kids, Mark reminds me of the time I consulted with a Seattle suburban school-district sometime in the mid 90’s. I forget exactly when, but what I do remember is that I was hired to support the high school staff in using computers wisely for English and Social Studies in grades 9-12. I introduced concepts of how the teacher is the most important factor in the students’ learning and that we would be looking at ways to keep the student-teacher relationship front and center at all times. I was interrupted immediately by a teacher who informed me, “That’s not what Bill Gates told us when he was here a week ago.” What? Seems Mr. Gates who donated the computers to the school had a different way of approaching technology in the schools. Yet, with his own kids, he did put life first before any screen machine,

Melinda Gates recently admitted that children’s obsessive screen use had “unexpected, unintended consequences.” Maybe she was sincere about that. But where was she in 1999 when I, along with the Washington Association of the Education of Young Children, trained 500 early childhood educators on how overuse of screens negatively affects young children’s brain development? We produced an educational video for this training. Mona Locke, the wife of then Washington governor Gary Locke, was the narrator on this video. Melinda Gates attended some of the state events that launched the video project. So she must have had some inkling back then about the sea of troubles for parents and children she and her husband had helped to start.

So Mark, I encourage you to re-think Messenger Kids, if no other reason that you don’t want to look like a fool 20 years from now. You will have no future regrets if you align today with the science of optimal early childhood development.

And really what is your end game here? Do you want the world’s children growing up obese, illiterate, adrift without personal agency, increasingly reliant on their devices to “live?”

I am not sure whether or not you are a Trans-humanist. If you are, you may as well come right out and admit it. Your agenda, like some others’ may be to move us all, especially the children, to increasing device use. So then the human-machine merger will increasingly become normalized as well. The trans-humanist agenda won’t seem as strange. In fact, it will seem like a natural progression, from human flesh to human consciousness within a machine. Along with the books of the experts who signed the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood letter, I highly recommend that you read, To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell, if you haven’t already.

So in conclusion, I give you three very good reasons to discontinue Messenger Kids immediately:

  • In the best interests of children (and their parents and our society—present and future).
  • So you won’t look like a fool 20 years from now.
  • To make a clear statement you are against trans-humanism.

Be a good neighbor to us all, Mark. Discontinue Messenger Kids—and millions will have your back.


Problems of Materialism and Culture, Raymond Williams, Verso Publishers, 1980, p. 32.


Copyright, Gloria deGaetano, 2018


The Fundamental Question Neither Alexa nor Siri Can Answer, But We Must

Recently, as I waited for an appointment at a coffee shop, I noticed a table with a dad, a woman that seemed like a good friend, and an older twinkling-eyed lady that from all indications was a special out-of-town guest. She talked with an accent and had brought uniquely crafted gifts for everyone. A girl about ten or eleven, the man’s daughter, sat with them.

Physically beside them, yet emotionally distant, she stared at a cartoon on her iPad and when bored with that inserted ear buds and began swiping her smartphone. While the adults carried on an animated conversation with lots of laughter, the girl’s expression remained indifferent. She looked up with the same blank expression when the elder woman offered her a gift. The man thanked the lady. He didn’t cajole the girl to say thanks. He did smile awkwardly as he took the gift, meant for the girl, who didn’t move a muscle to receive it. Not saying a word, the youngster settled back into her screen machine as the adults continued their lively interchange. She stayed that way the entire time. Even when they got up and left, she kept her gaze on her smartphone as she walked out the door, silent, preoccupied.

Like you, I have seen this tech family tableau many times before. Kids glued to a small screen, not present to the 3-D world around them, or all family members tethered to their devices, oblivious of each other. This time was different for me.

As fate would have it, I was reading about a concept called “Robopaths,” developed in 1972 by sociologist Lewis Yablonsky, who worried back then about the toll of a high-tech culture. As I observed the sad scene, I was actually reading:

“People may in a subtle fashion become robot-like in their interactions and become human robots or robopaths. This more insidious conclusion to the present course of action would be the silent disappearance of human interaction. In another kind of death, social death, people would be oppressively locked into robot-like interactions.” (Orlov, 2017)

Observing social death unfolding right before me as I read about social death was unnerving. “This changes everything,” I thought.

Two disturbing realizations occurred to me:

  1. Research won’t save us. All the research in the world about media’s impact will not change a thing for parents caught up in mass culture’s agenda for families. As an educator I value research findings as the underpinning of important information to determine best practices. Yet, contradictory research findings confuse parents, obfuscating essential issues. And, of course, experts will never all agree about complex systems; they can’t. Waiting for them to agree dooms us.
  2. Media literacy/media education won’t save us, either. This is a difficult one for me to accept because I so believe in and will continue to teach, promote and advocate for media/digital education–but now with new eyes. Sitting with chills down my spine as I kept peeking at the girl’s expressionless face hoping for a change in affect, something else stared me down that I couldn’t ignore—this thought:

Parents can talk to kids about reducing screen time or help them discern inappropriate media content from educational, healthy types—all they want. But these conversations become frustrating and often futile if children’s cognitive, emotional, and social developmental needs are not being met at the same time. A consistent pattern of uncooperative behaviors and surly attitudes prevent children’s willing participation in family media literacy activities.

While I yearn for research and media/digital literacy/education to make a significant impact, I also know they can’t make positive changes fast enough to counter the industry culture’s swift negative influences. For decades we have been telling, urging, and “shoulding” parents to make changes and look where it got us?

With social death and its normalization well underway, we speed up social death if we continue along this path.

We must start by first meeting children’s and teen’s developmental needs.

Most people know the developmental needs of our gardens, our crops, our forests, of our animals and pets. If we don’t attend to their needs, they end up with disease, illness, sub-optimal outcomes, even death. Over the past two decades of brain research, we have made huge steps in identifying the real developmental needs of our children and teens. So why is it so hard, as a society, to focus our attention on understanding and meeting vital human needs? Why are so many parents in this age of information left rudderless without basic knowledge of brain development to be able to grow children as easily and naturally as they grow their gardens?

Living in a culture we don’t create ourselves means we have to be super intentional and brave to be different. And we have to start focusing on what supports flourishing life in human, living systems.

I really don’t want people to become more like robots as robots become more like people—that’s not the world I will create by action or inaction. So, I must return to the fundamental question I have based my work on over the last thirty years, both as a parent and as a professional who helps parents:

“What is best for this child NOW?”

This question often leads to clarifying important assumptions such as:

  • What’s best for optimal development at every stage of growth, birth through young adulthood?
  • What’s relevant, appropriate, timely, and most productive for this child to flourish right now?

And those questions naturally lead to parental pondering like:

  • What’s best for my child according to my values as a parent?
  • What’s best for my child according to the image I have of her as an adult?

Jennifer Joy Madden, a health reporter and digital journalism professor, author of How to be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design, admonishes all of us: “Push to prioritize human needs.”

Absolutely. “Push to prioritize human needs” must be everyone’s mantra if we are to replace social death with social life.

Let’s see what could have happened if the dad in this story and the adults around the girl kept what’s best for the girl in mind; if everyone prioritized her human needs over her pseudo-need to be with her screens.

A Probable Story

The dad decides that he wants his daughter to be engaged in adult conversation because he knows it teaches her how to interact socially and, importantly, it helps her understand that she belongs to this community of adults—that her contribution to the conversation is important to them all. The adults want to hear what she has to say!

So before the outing, he would have a conversation with his daughter about it.

“Sweetie, I am looking forward to our time with Sophie and Irma. I am delighted you will be with us. You can bring your iPad and cell phone, but I don’t want you to take them out until I give you the go-ahead.”

“But I’ll be so bored just sitting there, listening to everyone.”

“You may be…but not if you ask questions and participate in the conversation. Let’s think about some questions you can ask. What are you curious about Sophie’s country, for instance?”

From there the girl uses her intellect and imagination, as her dad helps her write some questions down on note cards she can ask the lady guest. The dad has taken 20 minutes out of his busy day to prepare his daughter for the adult time because he knows that it’s an important thing for kids to participate in conversations—that it helps them grow a healthy emotional and social IQ. Plus it’s pure delight for him to observe his daughter thinking and creating.

So now, back in the coffee shop, this is what I observe:

The girl sips her hot chocolate as the older woman tells stories about her country and the people she knows there. The girl enjoys the stories, so she asks her questions. The two women, taken by her questions ask her how she came up with them. Such creative questions! The girl tells them how she thought up the questions, which leads to another lively interchange with lots of warmth and laughter around the table.

Then the woman takes out her special gifts and hands one to each of them. The girl listens to the story attached to each gift. When it’s her turn she is eager to share an idea—saying thank you quickly, she tells the older lady that she can look up the town where the lady’s gifts came from on her iPad, and they all can see pictures of it as the lady tells her last story.

“What a marvelous idea,” the adults agree.

The girl pulls out her iPad from her backpack and researches the small town, She has to go several places on the web to find the best pictures of the old village. While she does this the adults pass knowing glances around the table, silently proud of how the girl is using her tech knowledge to contribute to the conversation.

The girl cries out in glee when she finds the type of pictures she had envisioned, and passes the iPad around for each adult to see. The older woman asks the little one to choose her favorite. The girl does and the lady places the iPad in the center of the table so they can all look at the beautiful photo as she tells her last story.

When they stand up to leave, they all hug goodbye. The girl and elder woman walk out, smiling, their arms around each other.

Caring interactions enhanced by technology, a young girl’s creativity, and a parent’s fundamental question: What’s best for my daughter in this situation?

Human relationships come first when we put what’s best for our children first.

Long live social life!


Gloria DeGaetano, Copyright, 2017.


Lewis Yablonsky quote from, Shrinking the Technosphere, Dmitry Orlov, New Society Publishers, 2017, p. 194.



“You’re Smarter Than That!” (Family Media Literacy Part Three of Three)

First of all, thank you for your patience! It’s taking me longer to get to Part 3 of Family Media Literacy with summer events, visitors, and my reluctance to put an end to this series.

I understand there is no end to family media literacy…it’s an on-going process. For 18 Years. (And probably beyond with the grandkids.) And while I know three blogs (Part 1 and Part 2) are tiny drops in the tech tsunami disrupting every aspect of your family’s life, I finally made peace with my internal rumblings and feelings of inadequacy.

These ideas have helped other parents. I hope they help you in some way as well.

So here we go with Part 3 of Family Media Literacy…(Which makes part 2: Engage Mind so much easier.)

“You’re smarter than anything you see on TV,” I liked to tell my sons. From the time they were little until they left for college, I wanted them to get the message that they are highly capable wondrous beings in charge of their own minds. They can interpret well anything they see and hear in mass media, because, they are smarter than that!

“I know you can think of a better ending…” of a cartoon, a TV program, a movie or a video game. We played the “alternative ending game” until the end of high school. As they matured, so did their sophistication of understanding narrative, plot, and the director’s influence on an outcome of a film. “It’s fun to think and you can certainly think.”

As preschoolers they could conjure a cleverer jingle to the commercials they sang to each other over morning cereal bowls. As they got older, you might hear me cajoling, “You’re as creative as Stephen Spielberg—or even more so. Did you know that?” “Notorious Big has nothing on you guys. You could devise clever raps, if you wanted.” “Sure John Williams is a genius—he uses his talents, just like you do.”

I justified all this mommy hyperbole as a way to put me on an even playing field with the big guns. After all, I was up against a giant industry-culture that peddled its goods 24/7 with sophisticated brainwashing techniques to keep my boys beholden to them—an industry-culture who didn’t know them, didn’t care about them as the precious individuals I knew them to be—it only cared to lure them into the world of the Internet, video games, or the latest tech tool, ensuring they become robotic consumer adults, preoccupied with the trivial, not interested in anything beyond themselves.

Well guess what? I wanted my sons to become creative, self-actualized, emotionally healthy, stable adults, capable of contributing to a positive future. And I knew that could only happen if my husband and I were constantly vigilant, continually a nag for expanding their life beyond the world of the screen. They wouldn’t grow into their optimal selves with anything less.

I was at war and I knew that each and every day. Now with my sons being those self-actualized kind, amazing adults I dreamed of, I giddily realize that I won the war. Sure, I lost a few battles along the way—they played violent video games at friends’ houses, for instance. But in retrospect even some of those battles I won over time. They finally admitted how boring they thought violent video games were and preferred sports or strategy games, instead. YES!

“What do you want more than anything else in the world?” When I ask parents that question, they usually first respond—“For my kids to be happy…To lead a good life, to find fulfillment.” Something along those lines. They don’t answer:

“I want my child to become a video game addict.” Or “I want my child to grow up depressed and suicidal.” Or “I want my child to be the world’s greatest bully.”

No. Parents want what’s best for their children. Period.

Yet, the link between screen overuse and child self-identity may not be directly evident, but it is there, nonetheless, as clear as summer sky. It’s so worth all the time, energy; all the boundary setting with screens and talks afterward when boundaries are crossed. It’s so worth attending to how our children think about themselves as smart, creative people in relation to their relationship with screen technologies. For when we do, we give them the great gift of discernment for media matters. And that serves them well as children, as teens, and for the rest of their lives. Case in point:

Kyrie Irving, NBA star believes the world is flat. You may have heard. What may be news to you is that middle-school science teachers are pulling their hair out trying to convince their students that Mr. Irving is dead wrong—and they are losing this battle.

One teacher “says he tried reasoning with the students and showed them a video. Nothing worked. ‘They think that I’m part of this larger conspiracy of being a round-earther. That’s definitely hard for me because it feels like science isn’t real to them.”’

These students don’t think they are smarter than Kyrie Irving—they don’t even think their science teachers are smarter than Kyrie Irving. And it sure seems like they don’t believe anyone is smarter than to Kyrie Irving when it comes to our planet’s shape.

Want to make sure your kids don’t fall for such nonsense found all too regularly in our media-saturated world?

Make family media literacy an every day priority and “Your smarter than that!” your mandated mantra. Believe me, you’ll win this war that way. I guarantee it!

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2017. All rights reserved.


Media Education for the Family: Engage Mind and Use What’s Around You (Part Two of Three)

Media Education has taken hold in the US as a distinct and scholarly discipline. The Media Ecology Association just held it’s annual conference—this year’s theme, “Technology, Spirituality, Ecology.” Interesting, huh?

And as I write this, the National Association for Media Literacy Education’s conference is underway in Chicago. With the theme “Engaging Citizens, Building Community” the mission of the conference as explained on its website, “… is to explore the relationships between media literacy education, civic participation and community-building within our contemporary culture. Scholars, educators, media professionals, students, and activists interested in furthering media literacy education are encouraged to attend.”

What? Aren’t parents encouraged to attend, as well?

My first book, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1995 was Screen Smarts: A Guide to Family Media Literacy—now out of print. However, I compiled and updated 100 family media education activities from the book that many parents have found useful. The activities are listed by stages of development (birth through age 2, ages, 3-5, 6-10, 11-14, and 15-18) so that your child can participate in appropriate ways according to his/her brain capacities.

Media education came alive for me in 1991 at a conference at the University of Toronto. One workshop, in particular, made an impression.

The professor showed a 30 second Pepsi commercial, featuring a young Cindy Crawford walking into a bar, men gathering around her while she surprised them by ordering a Pepsi. We then told the professor what we saw—nothing earth-shaking—a pretty girl walks in a bar and orders a Pepsi.

Next came the thought-provoking part. He played the commercial again, this time stopping after each and every frame. “Do you see that light behind Cindy? Why do you think she is bathed in light while there is less lighting on the men?” (Makes her the focus.)

“And what’s with this guy? Why is he not part of the group? What’s he doing way over there at the end of the bar? What’s he looking at?” (Weirdly leering directly at her breasts.)

“Why is Cindy dressed in a halter top? Is it really summer? Look outside.” (It looks more like a fall day.)

And on it went. Until it became clear. Pepsi was selling its product by glorifying misogyny and appealing to men’s sexual fantasies.

By engaging strong emotions and intentionally bypassing logical thinking, Pepsi made its product seem “cool,” desirable—just like Cindy Crawford.

The other thing that stayed with me about this media education workshop was that in referring to the images, the professor called them “text.” Say again? No words appeared on the small TV monitor we watched—only visuals. “The text in this frame…” “Consider the text here…”

As a former high school English teacher, I could relate. Deciphering a 30-minute commercial was much the same as explicating a poem by Robert Frost or learning the implications of a Shakespearean metaphor. Engage mind and everything changes.

Now, there is no way I am suggesting busy parents today break down commercials into one-second bites to discuss with their kids (Although with today’s tech anyone can easily do this—perhaps older teens can make a project out of it?). What I do want to emphasize is the Engage Mind part.

In fact, this second practice (Practice #1: found here) for successful family media education is:

Family Media Education Practice # 2: Engage Mind and Use What’s Around You.

For instance, all around us are unrealistic portrayals of women’s bodies in movies, video games, magazines, and yes, today’s commercials, too. For instance, the average video game female is 5 feet 4 inches tall, has a 29-inch bust, a 22-inch waist, and 31-inch hips. As researcher Eric Rasmussen points out, “These highly unrealistic portrayals are so culturally-pervasive that young women (and adult women for that matter) are motivated to try to obtain these proportions, despite how unrealistic and unattainable they may be.”

Why? Engage mind and perhaps the purpose, intention, and reason shift to know and accept what is actually normal. A mass media culture has a way of making the normal seem abnormal and the abnormal seen quite normal. By helping our kids think through reality presented via media, they establish a normalcy north star within their growing psyches.

A Few Tips

Ask questions—a lot of questions.

Whenever we ask children questions, we engage their minds. The brain has nowhere else to go but to consider an answer or several possible responses.

For added bonus, make those questions about things you yourself are a curious about and you will see rapid child engagement. There’s nothing like a parent beginning with, “I wonder…” for helping children learn the art of thoughtful conversation.

Use Compare and Contrast as Your Go-To Technique

If you are thinking Compare and Contrast…I guarantee you will come up with many productive media education activities on the fly, you will amaze yourself.

I have Compare and Contrast so ingrained in my head from raising my two sons, that it won’t turn off even though we are now empty nesters. For instance, last night I watched MSNBC followed by Fox News to compare and contrast choice of newsworthy items, along with clarity of logical thinking. I learned a lot.

You can do the above with a teen today. Fake news, alternative facts, and how do we know what is real when NBA stars think the world is flat provide a treasure trove of similar media education potential.

Here are a few more ideas with the Compare and Contrast backdrop.

Compare Old with New

Let watch this classic Bugs Bunny cartoon and watch while it takes 60 seconds—a long 60 seconds for Bugs to tall from the sky. How does this compare with __________(favorite cartoon)? The fast pace of your favorite video game?

Let’s watch the 70;s version of Beauty and the Beast now that we saw the new one. I wonder what changes we will notice?

Over the summer, let’s watch a popular film from each decade starting with the 1920s and have dessert afterwards and talk about each one—then when we get to this decade, let’s consider how film has changed over all those years. What was your favorite decade? Why?

Do above for TV programs starting with 1950’s. Or video games starting with 1970’s.

Compare Different Media

After we play chess on this new board I bought, let’s play on our apps and see how that works. Which de we like better? Why?

After one hour playing Minecraft, spend one hour playing with the 3-D figures and setting up your imaginary world in the rec room. How is this same/different form playing on the computer? Which do you like better? Why?

Let’s read the book, listen to the audible of the book and then watch the movie of the book. This is an experiment in how we take in the story in different ways depending on when we read, listen or watch. We could talk about what we learned form this experiment all summer.

You may be gaining your media education/digital citizenship ideas from wonderful resources like Common Sense Media or Canada’s Media Smarts. Wherever you choose to look for family media education activities, know that when you use what’s around you to engage your child’s mind, you are raising thoughtful, discerning digital citizens—fully prepared to live fully in today’s world and take on the one to come.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2017. All rights reserved.

(Part Three with Practice #3 coming in July.)

Parent Practices for Family Media/Digital Literacy (Part One of Three)

Spring’s blossoming of new life brings opportunity for refreshing your family media/digital literacy menu. “What menu?’ you may ask. “Family media literacy sounds too complicated and too much trouble for what it’s worth.”

I totally understand. It definitely can be. If you are pressed for time, read no further and go here for 100 Family Media/Digital Literacy Activities.

They are categorized into general ideas for all ages, and then specifically for ages 3-5, 6-10, 11-14, and 15-18. I compiled these over the years and now share them with parents I work with in my own coaching practice and also with the family professionals I train to become certified parent coaches.

If you would like to learn three practices to integrate family media/digital literacy into your routine, read on!

As an overwhelmed single mom with two rambunctious toddlers 21 months apart, I knew media literacy was crucially important because of the research I was doing—but where to begin? One night, lying in bed considering this, I thought of Stephen Covey’s famous admonishment, “Begin with the end in mind.” OK, that made sense to me.

So over a few weeks, I developed my END. (I wrote it down, read it regularly, thought about it often.)

I wanted my sons to grow into adults who:

  • Used all forms of media (including paper and pencil!) for healthy purposes for their own well being as well as for the well being of society.
  • Questioned everything they saw and everything they interacted with on any screen.
  • Continually deepened their understanding of the challenges of staying human in a mass media society and their knowledge about how to stay human.
  • Were conscious and conscientious about the fact that mass media and technological devices are owned by a few who need our dollars to exist—an industry mass culture has goals and priorities that don’t always fit with what’s best for humans or for society.
  • Know their own abilities, strengths, and talents, AND understand themselves as creators who go out and create!

As I consider my now adult sons, I am happy to report that I was able to accomplish these goals—and to my relief and surprise—with a few simple yet focused intentional practices that I am going to share with you.

Interjecting family media/digital literacy into my daily routine with the boys wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined. Keeping my intent to raise savvy screen-smart kids at the forefront of my mind each day helped a lot. Soon their ideas contributed to mine and we found ourselves synergistically increasing their media/digital literacy skills—each day, until they left for college.

Practice #1: Control Screen-Time

Teaching kids media/digital literacy skills can only succeed if we first control and manage screen time. Children and teens addicted to screens won’t be teachable for media/digital literacy. Keeping to sensible guidelines for each age and stage of development enables the growing brain to mature optimally. It prevents them from experiencing the significant negative consequences—and there are many.

If you don’t yet understand how overuse of screens impacts children’s and teens’ development on multiple levels, I highly recommend Dr. Victoria Dunckley’s book, Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen Time.

As an integrative psychiatrist, Dr. Dunckley has pulled together the research in a most comprehensive, yet readable way. She tells it like it is and doesn’t sugarcoat the disastrous effect screen overuse has on the developing brain and central nervous system. I wholeheartedly endorse her book for parents who want solid, practical ideas for reducing screen time, so children and teens get their lives back. (As parents do as well!) Reading her book can be a wise first step onto an avenue for significant and sustainable changes.

Dr. Dunckley also posts blogs for Psychology Today. In one of her blogs, she provides six physiological mechanisms that explain electronics’ tendency to produce mood disturbance. If you are always in a battle with your child or teen over screen use, read this one for a better understanding of what is happening and why.

And if you need further evidence, I offer a reading list for interested parents, which includes books, research articles, and websites that offer compelling information and lots of practical strategies. You can contact me at to request a copy.

So…what’s the best screen-time that supports your child’s optimal development and provides the best foundation for teaching media/digital literacy skills?

I highly recommend:

No screen-time for infants through age 2: (Toddlers Ok to face time with Grandparents, of course—but no TV time, no apps for little ones, no I-Pads, no video games—no screen-play at all.) Consider the information in this article before you make any decisions.

Ages 3-5: No more than 1 hour a day, and in three 20-minute increments would be ideal. The rest of young children’s waking hours must be spent in physical, movement, sensory, and imaginative play experiences. No I-Pads, no apps, no video games.

Ages 6-10: No more than 2 hours a day—less if your child spends more than an hour a day on a screen at school. The detrimental effects on posture, eyesight, and general health continue to mount—even business people have started speaking out about the growing concerns.

And for this age group: No Video Games. Radical, I know. But since I know the vulnerabilities of the young brain and how those vulnerabilities create a major risk for screen and/or video game addiction, I cannot in my integrity make any other recommendation. I also discourage giving children cell phones—at least smart phones. There is no good reason in line with their optimal development as children, ages 6-10, to have access to the Internet 24/7. If adults have huge problems resisting the small screen of their phones, imagine the burden owning a smart phone puts on our children? And, some experts think smart phones may even be changing the human race—certainly young children cannot be expected to use such a formidable device wisely.

Ages 11-14: No more than 2 hours a day—less if your child spends more than an hour a day on a screen at school. Non-violent video games may be helpful learning tools at this stage. No social media accounts. Why? There is no good reason in line with their optimal development for children in this age group to have access to social media 24/7.

Ages 15-18: By waiting until age 15 for a social media account (and for a smart phone, ideally), parents have ensured that they have done everything possible to prepare their child’s brain/mind/body/will and spirit for handling the challenges of 24/7 access to social media and the Internet. And I continue to recommend for this age range, too only non-violent, age appropriate video games. Please see my book (with Dave Grossman) Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill for detailed explanations of the research that may help you understand why I am so firm on this.

I know the above may not sound very do-able. But they are based on my experience helping families with this issue, and what I know works best. I also know you will decide on your guidelines. My hope is that if you see your child acting aggressively, misbehaving, getting poor grades, no longer interested in anything other than screen play—that you then take my recommendations seriously. Limiting screen time will make a positive difference for you and your child—I guarantee it.

Let’s now consider some ways to get started reducing screen time that may work for you and your family:

How to mange screen time may be the major question of most parents today. Having worked with thousands of parents, please know I understand your frustration. In fact, my own parental pain around this issue prompted me to jump into this work in 1987 (You can read about my story here) and to begin the Parent Coaching Institute in 2000.

So where is your pain leading you? What is it whispering? Shouting? Urging?

What is the next step that’s right for you? I don’t know what that is. Only you do. Perhaps one or more of these suggestions can be a breakthrough starting point for you:

1.Try a small change and do it as regularly as possible. For instance, trimming off 15 minutes of screen time each day gives your child 105 more minutes a week to spend in the real world. You never know what s/he will think about do, understand, or conquer in those 105 minutes. In one year you have given back 5,460 minutes or 91 hours. Over the course of 18 years, you have gifted your child with 1,638 hours of non-screen time or better put, real-life time.

2. I am a big fan of regular family meetings. With these, you discuss limits, boundaries, and the reasons for them so that during the upcoming week—when life becomes hectic—your child knows your expectations and understands your rules.

3. It’s so much easier to enforce the hard stuff when there is a lot of good stuff going on each day between you and your child. In my book, Parenting Well in a Media Age: Keeping Our Kids Human, I explain five vital developmental needs that often get short-changed in our media/digital culture. I devote a chapter to each with practical ways to implement them into your busy day. When children’s needs are met, it is so much easier to set boundaries with them!

4. Also in that book, I invite you to explore who you really are as a parent—what are your values and priorities? What are your bottom lines and non-negotiables? Taking time to examine “the parent within you” gives you the necessary fuel for the times when you have to set your foot down.

5. My final suggestion (for now) has to do with creating space for awe to show up in your child’s mind and spirit. Human life in our natural surroundings naturally elicits a sense of wonder—an enchantment with nature, for instance, is one of the best immunizations I know of to prevent screen addiction. How much time does your family spend outdoors? Does your child/teen seek (nag you for?) time outside in play, hiking, or walking the dog? If not, starting here would be an efficient first step, since your child’s relationship to nature will healthily impact his/her relationships with self.

In her book, A Sense of Wonder, Rachel Carson, an early environmentalist and the prescient author of Silent Spring, writes:

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement…I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused — a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love — then we wish for knowledge about the subject of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.”

As you “pave the way” for your child to enter adulthood equipped to manage all forms of screen technologies as well as virtual reality, wearable devices, robots, and who knows what else, I invite you to ask yourself:

“What is the END I want to keep in mind NOW?”

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2017. All rights reserved.

(Part Two outlining Family Media Literacy Practice #2 coming soon!)

A New On-Line Risk All Parents Need to Know About

Whether educating children about cyberbullying or giving them explicit rules about on-line safety, parenting well in our screen-machine world requires stalwart dedication and on-going vigilance.

But how do parents help children avoid an on-line risk that parents can’t

even imagine exists?

Consider the story of Elijah Ballard.

In 2012, Elijah was a sixth grader in St. Louis. He used his father’s Visa (with permission) to create a Steam account with the video game company Valve. He downloaded a copy of the popular first-person-shooter game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO). He says that at first, he didn’t care that much for the game.

In August 2013, he tried an updated version and was soon deeply immersed in it.

By early 2014, Elijah had become active in the virtual gambling available through the CSGO Lounge.

By the end of 2014, Elijah had moved to the emerging casino-style websites that were connected to the CSGO world.

By 2015, Elijah’s life had spiraled out of control. His parents could not understand what was happening.

By 2016 Elijah, now 16 years old, was in counseling and recovering from compulsive gambling. And, he was a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against Valve.

As his father said, “Elijah was 13. Who in his right mind would have thought he was compulsively gambling?” Grady Ballard, a dentist, thought that his son was just playing a video game that pitted terrorists against counter-terrorists.

But CSGO has become much more than just a game.

Shaun Assael is a member of the ESPN network’s Enterprise and Investigations Group. On 1/20/2017, he posted an ESPN article which describes Elijah’s journey.

How did Elijah, a vulnerable young teen, get sucked into online gambling so smoothly by playing CSGO?

In 2013, Valve issued a new version of CSGO called “The Arms Deal Update.” It only made a small change. It didn’t affect how the weapons of the game were used, or how the game was played. Now the players could buy distinctive covers for their weapons. The covers are called skins. No big deal, right?

Wrong. This small change, changed everything. The skins had “value” based on their rarity. Most had values of a few cents to a few dollars. But some were rare enough that they were valued at thousands of dollars. The way in which players “win” these skins is through a virtual slot machine, embedded in the game. Players were no longer playing Counter-Strike just as a war between terrorists and counter-terrorists. They were now gambling as well. And their status in the game was now partially determined by their “skill” as gamblers. Did the game become more popular?

Mr. Assael notes that: “Seven months after the arms update was unveiled in August 2013, Valve had 150,000 users playing it at once – a sixfold increase from a year earlier.”

Elijah’s father did not know that CSGO had morphed so that gambling was now an essential part of the game. Nor did he know that the culture and community surrounding CSGO and CSGO tournaments had morphed into the explosive growth of the newest form of online gambling.

Valve created and controls the virtual market where the players can buy, sell, and trade the skins. It is through a related website, CSGO Lounge, that players can use their skins to bet on teams in the CSGO tournaments. But this is all virtual betting. No real money changes hands.

So how did Elijah gain access to casino-style gambling sites that use real money?

There is a “side door” to the CSGO site that allows players to transfer their skins to connected but “unrelated” sites, sites with names like CSGO Jackpot and CSGO Lotto. On these sites, they can convert their skins to real money, and play casino games. Of the estimated $5 billion wagered using skins, about $3 billion was wagered after being converted to real money.

Elijah’s father did not know that there was an open doorway from playing CSGO to active participation in online casino games. Nor did he know there were no restrictions on who could walk through this doorway. It was just as open to a 13-year-old as it was to a 33-year-old.

But it actually gets worse. The casino sites related to eSports gambling are almost completely unregulated. Regulatory agencies are not even looking at eSports gambling. It is, as Mr. Assael notes, “a burgeoning Wild West of gambling.”

How big is CSGO now? In 2016, an average of 342,000 people were playing the game at the same time. But it’s not just the players. There are CSGO tournaments played around the world. The big ones can have million-dollar prize pools. These tournaments last several days, and often have over 100,000 people in attendance, watching live. And, they can have as many as 27 million streaming viewers watching the action. Many of these viewers don’t just watch; they gamble on the outcomes. It’s called eSports betting. In 2016, an estimated $5 billion was wagered using skins.

Elijah’s father said, “Elijah was 13. Who in his right mind would have thought he was compulsively gambling?”

Another way of saying this is: Who in his right mind would have thought that there was an open pathway from playing a video game into an unregulated world of online casino gambling, with enticement to gamble, that is open to children?

How many other children have already been sucked into this world? We don’t know. No one of responsibility and authority appears to be looking.

So that means parents must look to see what their kids are doing and playing on-line. One close look and the on-line risk will become apparent.

Please read Mr. Assael’s article. If you have friends that you think should know about this new on-line risk, please forward this blog to them. If you are connected to a PTA or a church/temple/mosque group that relates to children and teenagers, please share this with that group.

Together we can mount a global offensive to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and other “games” luring our children into the dark, sad world of the compulsive gambler.

Let’s get started!

Copyright 2017, Gloria DeGaetano

In Troubling Times I Make Quiche to Stay “Heliotropic”

If you’re a gardener, you probably know that heliotrophy means, “turning toward the light.” Plants do it as a matter of survival. (Greek Helios = sun, Greek trepein = turn). I first encountered the word in 2001 when I read Appreciative Inquiry: Rethinking Human Organization Toward a Positive Theory of Change, edited by David Cooperrider and his colleagues, pioneers in AI.


Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a powerful framework for facilitating a positive change, either with others or within ourselves.

In developing PCI, after investigating several change process concepts, I decided to use Appreciative Inquiry within my Parent Coaching Model. Now after implementing it with hundreds of family support professionals that I trained to become PCI Certified Parent Coaches® and seeing the effective results with the parents I have personally worked with, and with the parents of the graduates of PCI, I am utterly convinced that turning to the light. especially during challenges is the only way to go.

On page 5 of Appreciative Inquiry: Rethinking Human Organization Toward a Positive Theory of Change, David Cooperrider and Dana Whitney write:

“Appreciative Inquiry is about the co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In it’s broadest focus, it involves systemic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system, when it is most alive, most effective, and most capable…it assumes that every living system has untapped and rich and inspiring accounts of the positive. Link that energy…directly to any change agenda and changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized.”

In these troubling times I invite you to explore Appreciative Inquiry (AI) in depth with that book and/or others. You will soon see AI has an outstanding 20-year plus track record for facilitating positive changes in many sectors.

  • What brings life to you, your family, your community?
  • And importantly, what brings you back to life when you are drained and depleted?

Here are three “light-boosters” I find helpful; maybe you will too:

We Always Have A Choice

Dr. Diane Dreher, best-selling author and member of Parent Coach International’s Advisory Board, reminds us that “no matter what happens, we always have a choice. As Viktor Frankl discovered, even in the horror of the Nazi concentration camps there was one thing the direst circumstances could not take away: his choice how to respond.”

I thought of a plaque I saw recently: “It’s only a thought, and a thought can be changed.” The one thing always under our control are our thoughts. And like Frankl, we can choose to change our thoughts—no matter what is happening outside of them. Dr Dreher points out that Frankl survived, went on to write the book that has inspired millions, Man’s Search for Meaning, “and developed Logotherapy to help people realize the importance of choices in their lives.”

We Can Choose What We Put in Our Brains

So many of my friends have recently told me they are taking a break from social media—they can’t stand the negativity any longer. I have done the same. And my husband I choose carefully when will tune into any TV news programs. We have to be in a certain mood. I know I have to feel as centered in my body as possible and take the news updates in small doses.

In her blog post, “How to Avoid Being Psychologically Destroyed by Your Newsfeed,” Ann Douglas, parenting educator, and author of Parenting Through the Storm suggests we remember there is a difference between being immersed and being informed.

We Can Do More From Our Souls

The best, and perhaps the easiest way, for me to stay positive is to create something that I am passionate about. One day it might be a quiche because I love experimenting with various quiche recipes, plus just the process of putting a quiche together beings me much comfort (Go figure!); another day it might be a blog to help parents use the political turmoil to enhance children’s thinking skills.

Turning toward the light means we use troubling times to draw out and deepen our creativity.

Moved from deep within us, we may surprise ourselves and do things we normally wouldn’t do. In speaking from and creating from our souls, we find more of our authentic voice, and that in turn affects others–authentically.

Robert Quinn, change process expert, points out, “When a person expresses something from the soul, we tend to listen. Their emotions open our hearts and their content engages our mind. This means that our own minds and hearts open and deep learning becomes possible. Listening may thus lead us to see the world in a new way. When we do, we become capable of acting in a new way.”

And that thought alone keeps me in the light.


Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2017. All rights reserved.


Make a New Year Resolution Today: Throw Out Those Violent Video Games


I don’t think violent video games belong in a civilized society. Yes, I know this is an unpopular stance to be sure—if you are a parent of a teen, it’s an even more unpopular mindset. A 2015 Pew Research Center Study discovered 84% of teenage boys play video games, with about 95% of those games being violent.

Now, we aren’t talking about Three Stooges violence or even Terminator mayhem, we are talking about the most grotesque, most despicable, horrific violence that can be imagined.

Let’s get a perspective for a minute. In 1993 I was on the Advisory Board of Mothers Against Violence in America. (MAVA) I consulted on an educational video they produced about violent video games. At the time, one of the games, actually had the player setting African American men on fire and snickering as they were burning, “Smells like fried chicken,”

I am not making this up. This experience prompted me to write in 1999 and re-write in 2014, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against Violent TV, Movie and Video Game Violence (with Lt. Col. Dave Grossman). “Games” since the 90s have become even more hateful; horrifying.

Most folks think racism comes from lack of teaching children empathy, but you can’t teach empathy.

In reality, a child must first recognize self as an empathetic person before any teaching about empathy can “take.” Humans can’t learn empathy without experiencing ourselves as empathetic. Learning higher-level emotions like empathy, compassion, and generosity aren’t learned like algebra, geography, or chemistry.

Brain science clearly shows us that what children do most often, significantly shapes how children grow to see themselves. No amount of parental guidance about loving others and treating them fairly can easily counteract the racism reinforced hundreds of times in daily rehearsal during the developing years. Hate-mongering racist video games build a racist self-identity. They also build a domineering, bullying self-identity.

Which leads me to reason I decided to write this blog. Several weeks ago a teen shot herself in front of her parents, so despondent over cyber bullying because of her weight. A few days after hearing about this tragedy, a relative told me that one of her former students committed suicide and went on to tell me of the teen suicide epidemic in her area—mostly teen girls who have been relentlessly harassed by teen boys.

As youth, struggle with questions of “Who am I?” and “How do I relate to others?” violent video games give them a world in which it they have to choose: “Do I become a bully (dominator)?” or “Do I give up and be a victim?” There are no other alternatives. The youth, prone to aggression, or angry at his parents’ recent divorce, will relate to the dominator portrayed on the screen, making an active decision to perpetuate violence onto someone else. On the other hand, kids who feel out of control, hopeless and isolated, may move toward feeling helpless initially, only to revert to “dominator tactics” when seeking revenge for the bullying. Victims can easily turn into bullies, but usually not vice-versa. Victims live in a pressure-cooker of hate. As pressure builds up beyond the capacity to cope, there are only two outlets left for the victim—explosion (killing others in revenge,) or implosion (suicide).

Because the portrayal of dominator/victim relationships is so pervasive in violent video games, and because violent video games are now normalized entertainment for youth, there is an implicit social sanction for the violence of the dominator/victim relationship.

As youth grow into the dominator role, acting it out in peer groups, practicing it over and over with violent video games, bullying others starts to feel normal. There is a sense of rightness to the domination, a sense of I have the right to treat others this way. And, the victim also feels this implicit social sanction as a disempowerment. This is why makes it so difficult, even with help, to escape from the victim role in a social group, because the form of the relationship appears to be “normal” thanks to media violence portrayals.

Parents, teachers and authorities, individually and together, work hard to protect kids from the tide of bullying sweeping our country. And while a few victories have been achieved, bullying overall increases. All of their efforts are like firefighters trying to put out a fire, while someone else goes around and dumps gasoline on the hot spots. Video game violence is that gasoline. Until we recognize and address its influence on bullying, by modeling and sanctioning the dominator/victim relationship, it is unlikely that we will succeed in putting out the fire of bullying, raging in our schools today.

So where to begin? I believe parents will make positive differences and help schools make significant strides, if they throw out violent video games, not allowing their children or teens to play them in their homes.

A violent-video free home is one of the most important first steps to countering cyber bullying in our schools. And it’s so do-able!

If childhood and adolescence is a special time for helping kids grow to become their best selves, then violent video games have no place in their lives. Common Sense Media has developed a list of the current Top Ten Violent Video Games of 2016, along with more appropriate alternatives.

And you can always do your own search for “non-violent video games.” The interesting, healthy alternatives that come up may surprise you and delight your kids.

It’s sure worth the try.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.



Our Brains, Our Backbone: When Experts’ Advice is Not Brain-Compatible for Our Youngsters

Last week the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated two of its policies regarding screen time for young children and for older children and teens. The doctors relaxed their guidelines for toddlers, making it not in alignment with brain science.parenting with brain science

Amending their previous caveat of no screen technology before the age of 2, they now recommend:

“For parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media, advise that they choose high-quality programming/apps and use them together with children, because this is how toddlers learn best. Letting children use media by themselves should be avoided.”

I believe young parents caught in the tech tsunami need clearer and more direct guidance. For instance, while it is certainly preferable when parents interact with their children while enjoying a high quality app or an educational program rather than youngsters using media on their own, it is not true that “toddlers learn best” that way. In the same policy statement, the doctors acknowledge:

“Children younger than 2 years need hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop their cognitive, language, motor, and social-emotional skills. Because of their immature symbolic, memory, and attentional skills, infants and toddlers cannot learn from traditional digital media as they do from interactions with caregivers, and they have difficulty transferring that knowledge to their 3-dimensional experience.”

If we truly understand the brain science and want to give toddlers the best start in life, we have to state firmly and clearly: “Dear American pediatricians, you got it wrong. Please re-instate your previous recommendation, at the very least.”

The Canadian Pediatric Society currently recommends no screen time (eg, TV, computer, electronic games) for youngsters under age 2. And French pediatricians concerned with obesity and the life-style trajectory that is set in the early years recommends no screens under the age of 3. The French also have stricter recommendations for older children than we Americans do:

  • No video games before age 6
  • No social Internet before age 9
  • No social media before age 12

The French doctors’ stair step guidelines make so much sense because they are in alignment with brain science.


These pediatricians recognize that children’s brains are in a process of development and help parents make better parenting decisions as a result.

From my research of the last 20 years, I believe that keeping kids away from video games as long as possible—ideally not until age 10 or 12—helps greatly in preventing video game and Internet addiction. “You can’t fool Mother Nature.” Developing human brains were designed to interact with the 3-D world. When the machines of a 2-D world replace our natural, at-home environment, our children and teens become de-humanized. Make no mistake about that. This pattern and process has inevitable outcomes—dire, tragic outcomes.

I do wish it were otherwise. But it isn’t. And now, the sad truth is: Troubles for families in our digital world only exacerbate when experts don’t do their jobs.

Consider the AAP’s opening statement in their new screen policy for young children:

“Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are now growing up in environments saturated with a variety of traditional and new technologies, which they are adopting at increasing rates.”

This statement has two major problems with it:

  1. While it is very true that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are now growing up in environments saturated with a variety of traditional and new technologies—it is not true (and very misleading to say so) that “they are adopting these at increasing rates.” The reality is that their parents are allowing them access to the devices at increasing rates. Youngsters cannot adopt these. Adults adopt the new technologies for them.

This is an irresponsible statement—constructed, it seems to me, to avoid the truth and even to obfuscate. If the block you lived on had 10 liquor stores on it, you wouldn’t think: Oh I have to buy my toddler some whisky and get him to start drinking since he will be growing up surrounded by liquor stores. No, you would do everything in your power to prevent untimely exposure to liquor, teach about healthy choices as he grows, and only offer him a shot of whisky when his brain/mind body was ready to deal with it—as an adult. And if he had a genetic propensity to alcoholism, you might move your place of residence to healthier environs or do everything in your power to prevent him from taking one drop.

  1. The vast majority of young parents who are adopting the new technologies for their infants, toddlers, and preschoolers do not understand at all what havoc they are bringing to their youngsters’ developing brains. There are very few courageous souls who are “out there” telling it like it is. Dr. Victoria Dunkley is one of those courageous souls. As an integrative psychiatrist who noticed the negative effects of screen technologies on children and youth she worked with over a fifteen-year period, she has articulated the research, effects, and what to do about it in her outstanding book, Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time. (2015)

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Dr. Dunckley explains in detail what happens to children’s and teens’ brains and their sensory nervous systems with over-use of screens. She calls this ESS—Electronic Screen Syndrome and shows parents exactly what to do about it. If you are a parent of a child who is “out of sorts” in any way, I highly recommend you read her book and decide for yourself what actions to take.

With experts like Dr. Dunckley so rare, it’s getting to the point that we can no longer rely on experts to guide us. In my book, Parenting Well in a Media Age, I lay out 6 major challenges—unprecedented challenges—moms and dads encounter because the industry-generated culture has replaced the culture of people and honored traditions and ancestral values. This culture is a counterfeit one. It is a culture made up of mega-conglomerates who influence attitudes and behaviors on a massive scale, using manipulative measures to do so. I find it quite ironic that in an information age with all the information technology at our disposal, we cannot manage to grow children in alignment with what we know works for their most optimal development. Obesity, attention problems, hyper-activity, sensory integration problems, poor self-esteem, bullying, and childhood depression haunt us at every turn. Yet, the one thing parents can do—reduce screen time—to reduce—or even eliminate those problems entirely—is not made clear to parents.

I invite you to become the brains for your child’s developing brain. It’s not rocket science to understand the brain research and the reasons why young brains need to be protected from screen technologies. I encourage you to read Dr. Dunckley’s book and inform yourself. You must be the CEO of your child’s brain since their brains aren’t fully mature until about age 25. So until then, the decisions they make come from a still-developing brain. Think about that and then make the fundamental choice to become the brains for your children. With that fundamental choice in place your daily, tough decisions will be easier to make.

Then, make a second fundamental choice: To engage your backbone. Stay convicted. Your knowledge will only become your power if you have the courage to align your parenting with brain-compatible practices—no matter what.

Please contact me: I have resources and practical tips I can send you that have worked for thousands of parents. You don’t have to be alone in all this.

I do believe we can create the world we want for our children if we use our brains and our backbone in the best interests of our children. What about you? What do you believe?

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.



Parents’ Place in the Land of the “Digital Native”

Recently I was talking to a friend about a child being a digital native and she looked at me shocked, “Do they really use that term—digital native? That’s sick.”

Now this thirty-something gal is not living under a rock. Helping to raise her six year-old stepdaughter, she is up against all the parenting challenges of our day, just like every mom.

Because of that, and the fact that “digital native” is at least fifteen years old, I found it quite refreshing she hadn’t heard the term before our conversation.

I was also glad she brought up her negative opinion first. Although I have a strong objection to “digital native” too, I don’t usually bring up my concerns. Call me a coward. But over the past few years, I usually lose trying to convince others that the “digital native” designation is downright offensive.

Let me explain.teaching digital natives

Marc Prensky, a game designer with an MBA from Harvard, coined the term, “digital native” in 2001 to describe the new generation of humans growing up with all things digital. Everyone else, “digital immigrants” were visitors to this new land.

Prensky had a point. He cited compelling statistics. Students were spending fewer than 5,000 hours of their lives reading (assuming that reading refers to books only), but over 10,000 hours playing video games and 20,000 hours watching television. (Now remember this was fifteen years ago. Today kids, ages 8-18, spend an average of eight hours daily with small screens, amassing about 30,000 hours in this crucial ten year period of development.)

But equating time with screens means “He or she is a digital native,” misses the bigger picture.

Who says that and why? And what does it mean for families and schools when kids know more about modern communication devices than their parents? Are all parents over the age of 25 obsolete? Are we unknowingly at last living in Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt?

Explicating the issues in an comprehensive analysis of digital native issues, Professor Apostolos Koutropoulos of the University of Massachusetts writes:

“It is clear that in Prensky’s writings, as well as other digital native authors’ writings, that they expect that these statistics (screen time use) hold true across the board, regardless of your socioeconomic background and your country of origin. What’s clear is that the context isn’t really considered. Who is spending all this time playing video games? Prensky owns a video game company so it may be that what he sees every day is what he thinks of the norm, but that doesn’t mean that this norm is universal reality.”

Kouropoulos goes on to point out:

“Other overgeneralizations put forth by authors like Prensky, is that the digital natives prefer images over text, they prefer games over ‘serious work,’ they function best when networked, digital natives can’t pay attention (or they choose not to!), and finally digital natives have skills, with digital technologies, that they’ve perfected….Do those general skills transfer over to the academic side? Could I seamlessly take my skill of posting facebook updates and apply this to an academic context without the help of a more experienced ‘digital immigrant’”?

Other studies show that Koutropoulos’ concerns are warranted. “Most children’s everyday uses of the Internet are characterized not by spectacular forms of innovation and creativity, but by relatively mundane forms of information retrieval.”

Nothing is more important than parents being models and yes, even teachers, for their children in this digital world. Daily decisions parents make determine the quality of our social order now and in the future. This is not hyperbole, this is scientific fact. If we truly understand brain science, we must logically conclude that parents play the primary role in growing or damaging their children’s development—since they are making the primary decisions that will most significantly affect the child’s brain growth for 18 years and beyond. Healthy adults create a healthy society.

So given this baseline, how do parents accomplish optimal brain development for their kids when most of their peers and the industry culture, as well, tells them “digital natives” learn differently and need special handling since they know more than you about all thing digital?

Two Thoughts Come to Mind:

Maintain Our Primary Role as Models and Teachers

While most parents older than 25 will seek help from their kids with tech stuff, we can’t make the mistake of giving up our parental authority because kids know something about computers or social media that we don’t. Teaching our kids appropriate uses such as non-violent video game play and social media etiquette and net safety are parents’ responsibilities. A tech-savvy kid is no excuse for a peripheral parent.

Question the Industry Culture

When someone who owns a video game company makes a big deal about kids learning best from video games, then we may have what used to be called “conflict of interest” and “propaganda thinking” at work. Of course, kids can learn from video game playing. But what are they learning and how does what they learn transfer to other skills they will need and want as self-actualized adults? How does what they are learning make them a better person? Only loving parents can answer that.

It certainly also helps us maintain our place in the land of digital natives when we listen to our parental gut wisdom since it’s usually right on. Check out Marc Prensky’s latest 2016 “stand” on digital native. He is quoted as saying, “The most important thing to realize is that this (digital native term) is a metaphor. It’s not a distinction or a brand, it’s extremely fluid.”

But then, you knew that 15 years ago—didn’t you?

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.


Buckingham, D. (2006). Is there a digital generation? In D. Buckingham & R. Willett (Eds.), Digital generations: Children, young people and new media (pp. 1–13). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, p. 10.

Prensky, M. (2001a). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5) Retrieved from %20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Prensky, M. (2001b). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants: Do they really think different? On the Horizon, 9(6), 1-6. Retrieved from %20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part2.pdf