Thoughts on Screen Addiction—40 Years Later

Screen addiction worries me so I was excited to receive the April 1976 Psychology Today magazine I had ordered through Back Issues.

screen addiction

I leafed through “The Benefits of Boredom,” “Our Failing Reverence for Life, and “Guru Bawa and His Disciples: The Mind is in the Heart,” and there it was—what I was looking for: “The Frightening World of the TV Addict.”

George Gerbner then dean of the Annenberg School of Communication, at the University of Pennsylvania, and his colleague, Larry Gross, discovered that “heavy viewers,” who watch four or more hours of television daily, are more fearful, less trusting “of their fellow citizens” and see the world as a much meaner place than those who watch less TV. Dubbed, “the mean-world syndrome” their research broke new ground, demonstrating that adult perceptions and behaviors could be shaped by TV’s influence (Gerbner and Gross, 1976).

Heavy viewers have a hard time separating their world from the TV world. Sometimes that results in becoming a scary person, more aggressive or a more scared person, more fearful than one might have been without all that programming. Other times, TV can make seemingly sane people do bizarre things. If you ask those 250,000 adults who wrote and sent letters requesting medical advice from the fictional Dr. Marcus Welby why they would do such a thing, they may not be able to give you a reasonable answer. (You may be too young to remember the venerable man. Played by Robert Young of Father Knows Best fame; Dr. Welby embodied the heroic essence of “the good doctor.”)

Those youngsters who ran around lifting up sewer grates, looking for the Teenage Mutant Turtles, (Grossman and DeGaetano, 2014) have an excuse, after all, children’s brains aren’t fully developed and what is imagined in mind easily becomes real-life. But adults who actually take time to intentionally pen/type a letter to someone who doesn’t exist? (Back then the letters had to go through US mail and took more time and thought to construct and deliver than today’s three-line e-mail.) And yet…maybe these folks weren’t all crackers. Maybe they sincerely wished like mad that the good doctor would/could/if only exist?

Whatever the reasons adults can’t separate reality from fantasy, the fact that these things happen shows the power of the screen to influence. That was true in 1976 and it’s still true today, despite all the massive changes. 40 years ago, as the article points out, “Television, unlike theater or the movies, does not require leaving your home.” Today, of course, you carry all your favorite TV shows and movies with you, accessing them anyplace with Wi-Fi, which is just about anywhere.

40 years is a long time. 40 years can turn a toddler’s tantrum into a mid-life crisis. He’s gone from throwing red convertibles to buying one. 40 years mellows many turbulent teens into earnest moms—now arguing with their turbulent teens. A lot happens in 40 years. We aren’t the same people we were (unless of course, we are the Rolling Stones and we continue to live as if it still were 1976).

So while so much has changed in the technology world over the past 40 years, and we aren’t the same people we used to be 40 years ago, actually little has changed to prevent or eradicate screen addiction.

With the ease at which screens flitter through our lives and fill up our time, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the average time spent with screens for today’s kids is 7.5 hours daily (Rideout, 2010). One out of eleven are addicted to video games—that’s at least three million kids whose lives revolve around video games (Grossman and DeGaetano, 2014).

The fours hours-a-day-1976 description of the “heavy viewer” now seems quaint by comparison, nostalgic even. And if we want to get technical—fours hours was the average time adults spent viewing. Children back then watched TV an average of 2-3 hours day.

Stephen King calls TV “the glass teat” and he has a point—these days media use begins in infancy.

On any given day in the US, 29% of babies under the age of 1 are watching TV and videos for an average of about 90 minutes. Twenty-three percent have a television in their bedroom (Linn, et. al., 2012). Time with screens increases rapidly in the early years. Between their first and second birthday, on any given day, 64% of babies and toddlers are watching TV and videos, averaging slightly over 2 hours. Thirty-six percent have a television in their bedroom (Linn, et. al. 2012). Many parents now offer their infants and toddlers their cell phones as a way to calm them; families dining out often are paying more attention to their digital devices instead of conversing with each other—as you probably observe everyday.

While we progress from toddler to mid-life; from being a teen to parenting a teen—in 40 years as a collective intelligence we haven’t figured out how to prevent screen addiction.

While the information necessary to make positive changes to prevent screen addiction exists, (tons of research; loads of best practices) it is not in the hands of enough parents. When children are on the “glass teat” more than they are doing things in real life, it demonstrates to me that the parents do not understand the negative consequences of too much screen time on developing brains. They don’t think that creating a habit of quieting youngsters with devices can result in a screen addiction a few years later. But once parents do understand the immense fragility of the young brain, they often need help to implement new parenting strategies in their day-to-day. (I will put in a shameless plug here: That is why I started parent coaching as an effective solution for helping parents align their parenting decisions with what’s best for optimal brain development. It works!)

I don’t want to be coaching parents ten or even five years from now because they lost their children in virtual reality. I hope in the future I don’t hear a mom or dad complaining, “Gloria, the holograms are taking over every nook and cranny of the house. What am I to do?”

I long for a high-tech world that we manage well and use for the highest and best purposes of humankind.

Who will create our a high-tech/deeply human world?

Your children will. Teach them to love the natural world, to be at home in the world of earth, sun, sky, breath and life. Teach them that the screen world is for new information to better the natural world; for entertainment—times to escape and have fun; for communication—to stay connected to those you care about and most of all, the screen world is for their creative expression—to design new forms that enhance the natural world and life and everyone’s life.

The screen world is never, ever, the only world.

Yes, teach them these things and your children will be care-full thinkers with the wisdom, will, and know-how to make sure in 2056 the real world on planet Earth is still livable, and most folks (your grown children included) choose it over the screen/virtual/holographic one.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.

References

Gerbner, George and Gross, l. “The Scary World of TV’s Heavy Viewer.” Psychology Today, April 1976. Pp. 41-45.

Grossman, David and DeGaetano, G., Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A call against TV, movie, and video game violence. Random House. 2014.

King, Stephen. (2010) On Writing. Scribner, p. 148.

Linn, Susan, Ed.D, Almon, Joan, Levin, Diane, Ph.D. (2012) Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young children, technology and early childhood. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and the Alliance for Childhood.

Rideout, Victoria, Foehr, U., and Roberts, D. (2010) “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year Olds.” Kaiser Family Foundation.

 

 

Talking with Teens Beyond Media Literacy

Recently I had an opportunity to talk with some insightful teens beyond the traditional media literacy topics.

It all started when Brother Leroy Baylor contacted me to be a guest on his radio show for WHCR 90.3 FM—the voice of Harlem. I had enjoyed previous interviews with Brother Leroy with the release of both editions of Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill. A passionate advocate for youth, Brother Leroy is extremely knowledgeable about the link between violent video games and youth violence. It’s a pleasure to talk with like-minded souls who “get it.” And a great relief when I don’t have to defend my position on a radio interview. I can share the straight facts and have them both accepted and appreciated.

Knowing that we would have an energizing and interesting conversation, I readily accepted his invitation. But this time was going to be different from the other interviews, he explained. Fourteen and fifteen year-olds who are learning how to be radio hosts would question me. Brother Leroy went on to tell me about his new project with inner city youth—radio journalism for high school students. Impressive. (It’s hard to keep up with Brother Leroy, a father of five and grandfather of six who works tirelessly for youth in his community.)

On the call, my first host was a 14 year-old boy who came right to the point, “So, did you let your sons play violent video games?”

“OK, here we go,” I thought. “How to position this so I am not defensive and I don’t put him on the defensive as well?”

I first acknowledged that the games “back then” weren’t as violent as they are today, but that being said, I still restricted any violent ones. I also quickly added, my sons played violent games at friends’ houses anyway. When I caught them playing a game they brought home that was basically beating up other people, I played it with them—noting that it took no thinking at all to constantly punch someone, just excellent hand-eye coordination that luckily I have.

I also explained to my youth radio host that my junior-high sons quickly acknowledged that if mom can succeed at this violent game, surely they had better things to do. It wasn’t long before they were immersed in sports video games with a lot more strategy needed. They knew I couldn’t compete with them when actual skill was involved.

After I told this story, I felt the silence on the other end of the phone line. Like hearing water actually being absorbed by a sponge, I could tell my youth host was pondering what I had just said. Soaking in the information. He then quietly asked why I was so sure violent games were harmful.

I immediately went back to my experience of 1985 finding a seminal 22 year-old study on the dusty shelves of Suzzalo Library when I was teaching at the University of Washington. Completed in 1984, this longitudinal study by Leonard Eron and Althea Houseman from the University of Chicago stunned me when I first read it. Tracking kids from under age 8 to their adulthood, the researchers found that kids with a steady diet of TV violence in early childhood, became adults who were incarcerated for violent crimes and as adults were more likely to beat up their spouses or children. And their children then became more likely to become domestic abusers as well, and imprisoned for assault, even murder.

More silence while I heard the soaking in.

As the interview progressed I started channeling my inner high school teacher—communicating clear respect for the youth’s ideas while explaining my position with the assumption that it would be of interest to them.

And it was.

I included some media literacy ideas. One example is the ability to distinguish between gratuitous violence and sensitive portrayals of violence in which the viewer or the player aligned with the victim instead of the perpetrator. I gave the example of taking my underage sons to see Schindler’s List—a film that captures the horrific suffering of victims of the holocaust. I made a point to let my radio hosts knows that our family discussed this movie in detail afterward, comparing violent portrayals on the film and on video games—my sons had to consider whose side you are on in each venue.

While I covered a few media literacy ideas like this one, during the interview what struck me was that even more than the value of media literacy activities was the absolute need for providing a meta-level understanding to these curious, eager, and astute youth. For me, a meta-level framework includes two major pieces:

1.) The knowledge of how growing brains are more easily conditioned to feel satisfaction from violent media—the fact that brains aren’t considered mature until age 25 adds levels of complexity to human brain vulnerabilities when interfacing with screen technology.

2.) The extensive research—the fact that there are more studies showing media violence’s contribution to violent behaviors than there are studies linking smoking to lung cancer.

With my last youth host, an articulate, confident fourteen year-old girl, I spontaneously said, “You know, parents are so alone in all of this. Parenting with all the problems with screen technology is unprecedented—there has never been such daily parenting dilemmas as there are now. It’s really hard. Moms and dads are stressed and overwhelmed. Parents could use the help of teens like you and your friends, here—your leadership in sussing screen technology wisely could make big positive differences.”

She wholeheartedly agreed!

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.

Acting—It’s Really Child’s Play

The Academy Awards Sunday highlighted for me a reoccurring thought over the last few months—acting is really child’s play. And a lot of child’s play is actually acting.acting is child's play

Yet, ironically, little ones these days aren’t spending near enough time in imaginative play while a select few of adults in our society get paid exorbitant sums for doing just that!

We call them stars for a reason. Like our sun, the known world revolves around them. The lives of these well-paid imaginative players fascinate a lot of people; mass media makes a good living on that voyeurism. In fact, one could argue successfully that the culture of celebrity defines popular culture.

To be clear: I am not dismissing or diminishing movies at all. I understand what film and theater bring to a civilized society. I totally align with the merits of being moved by a profound performance. I was an actor myself, once—long ago in high school. Loved it so much as I teacher I always led the school’s drama department. Witnessing the amazing breakthroughs kids had when they tapped into their personal agency on that stage stunned me.

Becoming someone else so thoroughly led them back to themselves. Timid kids surprised themselves with the clarity of their voices; bullies settled down, delightfully discovering that their own business was much more interesting than their peers’ shortcomings. Well-respected athletes gave non-begrudging respect to the geeks; the geeks found fresh reasons for movement and physical stamina. Now I’m not saying my drama clubs were always a love fest—no, these were typical kids with all the teen angsts common today.

“But what I am saying is that by acting—experiencing child’s play—enriched their individual and collective lives. And, of course, mine.”

Participating in an array of generative imaginative experiences throughout childhood and adolescence is so essential to human development. There are mountains of research demonstrating the valuing of acting—from playing pretend as a three year; to acting “as if” as an adult needing a boost of courage before walking into that board room. Since the 1940s studies continue to show that children’s imaginative play builds cognitive functions, increases ability for self-regulation, and contributes greatly to overall healthy social and emotional development.

Recently we lost a pioneer who deeply understood all this. Bev Bos, a role model and mentor to me, worked tirelessly to help parents and the professionals who supported them, understand the immense value of child’s play. Because of her efforts thousands upon thousands of kids grew up with their creative imaginations in tact and engaged—becoming self-understanding people who understood others.

Acting, after all, is walking in another’s shoes. No one has to be paid a dime to do that well.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.

 

Keep Calm. I’m Praying.

Driving home from a yoga class yesterday, sweaty and sore, I was in a relatively calm, centered place. An easy place to be, since I don’t usually give a d_____ about anything immediately after hot yoga, except where my next shower and meal will come from and how soon. But as we all know, holiday traffic doesn’t radiate an energy field of peace on earth, so hungry, tired, and grumpy soon replaced centered and calm, especially when that truck recklessly pulled ahead of me.

I sighed and tried a grounding mantra.RFK quote and photo

Then I read four words etched into his bumper that swiftly brought me back to myself. I make a point about “etched into the bumper” rather than these four words being “on a bumper sticker” that with some hot water and elbow grease can be removed, in case the owner has a change of heart—a decided new way of being in the world. Etched, however, means commitment with a capital C. These four words are there for the life of the vehicle, all the while heralding the owner’s determined dedication to the message:

“Keep Honking. I’m Reloading.”

Buddy. No worries here. I am not ever, ever going to honk, no matter how many daring driving skills you display, no matter how many minutes you delay me from lunch and cleanliness. You rule, guy and you know why…

When I got home, I discussed the irony with my husband and adult sons home for the holidays—the time of love and goodwill and all of that.

We also discussed how times are changing…This four-word bumper etching would have been unheard of when I was growing up or when raising my kids, for that matter. Even in my hometown of central PA with deer hunting a fall sport for 99% of the population, you would never see such a crass display of viciousness on someone’s bumper. Hunting people never popped into anyone’s mind. Ever.

Today I become prey and possibly road kill if I show just the wee bit of impatience driving home from yoga in a relatively calm state.

In a world gone mad with terrorism and brutality, I know a violent message on a bumper isn’t something to get too bothered about. Yet, these four words prove an indicator of a mind-set increasingly becoming more normalized. Tracking the nuanced violence going on in society can be an interesting hobby. It helps keeps alive the non-normalcy of where we see ourselves headed. Observing the gradual erosion of decency as commonly accepted by the collective makes me fiercer to do whatever it takes to change course.

So now I’m wondering if we distributed “Keep Calm. I’m Praying.” bumper stickers to those with “Keep Honking. I’m Reloading.” bumper etchings, would they use them?

It occurs to me that while a violent, de-humanizing etching can’t easily be removed, it can be easily covered and replaced by a new, life giving message.

Love, Peace, and Goodwill to All.

 

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2015. All rights reserved.

 

We Can Make Life More Fulfilling Than a Video Game—But Will We?

When helping parents with media-related issues, I find often the core of every digital dilemma to be, “How can I make life more fulfilling than his video game or her social media time?” “All he wants to do is on-line gaming. He used to love to play the piano, but now I can’t get him to sit down and practice.” “She is such a great artist, but she seldom draws anymore—she’s always texting her friends.”

Put bluntly, for most parents, it’s screens vs. life and screens are winning, hands down.

Case in point: A “new” study released yesterday by Common Sense Media finds that teenagers (ages 13–18) use an average of nine hours of entertainment media per day and that tweens (ages 8–12) use an average of six hours a day, not including time spent using media for school or homework.

I put “new “in quotation marks because this study is really a mirror image of past countless studies that reveal the same thing: Kids keep spending more time with screens and less time doing anything else, including classroom time or talking with parents. I have observed this disturbing trend since 1985, when I began my adventure into media literacy.

(These days I often feel like the crazed guy in the movie, Network, who shouts out of open windows to anyone who will listen: “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore.” If you don’t know this film, check it out sometime and you’ll see what I mean.)

Back to…Another case in point: On Nov. 2, the New York Times reported on a study that showed 75% of parents gave tablets, smartphones or iPods to their youngsters before the age of 4, and many of the children had used the devices without adult supervision.

The article went on, “…experts say the surprising result adds to growing evidence that the use of electronic devices has become deeply woven into the experience of childhood.”

“Surprising result?” You got to be kidding? What wormhole had this author just come through?

Hand-held devices in the hands of babes is an issue that has been escalating and in the news since say, at least 2011. In 2012 I wrote pleading odes about this problem in my book Left To Their Devices, What’s Left?

While no surprises, there is irony.  media literacy week

This week is Media Literacy Week. A week set-aside to promote the honorable and most necessary vital need in a world of screen technology–a week, according to Media Smarts of Canada, devoted to highlighting “the importance of teaching children and teens digital and media literacy skills to ensure their interactions with media are positive and enriching.”

Enriching is good. Positive, imperative. Therefore media literacy is good and imperative.

When my first book, Screen Smarts: A Family Guide to Media Literacy, was published in 1995, I was thrilled. But after 25,000 copies were sold, Houghton Mifflin decided not to re-print it—media literacy was just not known well enough at the time.

But thankfully times have changed drastically and today media literacy seeps in all sorts of cyber crevices for parents to support their children in the age-old quests of controlling screen time and restoring life to front and center.

What is Media Literacy?

Media literacy, and it’s important, cousin, digital literacy, means using media and digital devices purposefully, just as a print-literate person reads a book or a magazine, a college text or an app chart for specific, various reasons. While a print-literate person reads words; a media literate person reads images as well. Using analysis, evaluation, and higher level thinking skills, a media-literate person interprets the subtle messages and the overt claims visual messages convey. If we boiled down media literacy for our children and teens, I think we would find five basic skills that we would like them to acquire:

  • Conscious, intentional, self-directed, limited use of all forms of screen technology.
  • Ability to critique visual messages and understand their intent and intellectual and emotional impact.
  • Ability to communicate facts, ideas, and thoughtful opinions about media images.
  • A thorough understanding of media production techniques to fully appreciate how such techniques as camera angles, lighting, cuts, etc. impact the messages being delivered.
  • Ability to make various forms of media as communication and creative expression.

 

Busy parents can think of media literacy as: Talk. Think. Make.

There are plenty of media literacy organizations that provide excellent resources to aid in media literacy discussions. Many also provide games and activities that will help youngsters and teens alike think more critically about all types of media content and all facets of their media use; and also provide fun creative ideas for kids to make their own media. In the 2014 version of my book on media literacy to counter media violence (with Lt. Col. Dave Grossman), I provide an extensive list of media literacy organizations. Two other resources that I came across since then are Raising Digital Natives and the Game Changer Movement.

Devorah Heitner, PhD is the founder and director of Raising Digital Natives, a resource for parents and schools seeking advice on how to help children thrive in a world of digital connectedness. She is the author (with Karen Jacobson) of the curriculum, Connecting Wisely in the Digital Age, for students in grades four through eight to identify, analyze and solve common problems they will face growing up with technology.

Dr. Heitner’s blog posts are highly informative. A recent post discusses the importance of creativity, emphasizing the “make” part of media literacy. Her helpful suggestions include: What about watching a YouTube video about how to play Minecraft vs. making a “how-to” video on YouTube about Minecraft strategies? Even though they are employing the same platform (YouTube), the activities are completely different (passive vs. active).”

It seems Dr. Heitner is in her element and is a treasure-trove of media/digital literacy ideas for parents and schools.

Erik Lehman, founder, is a passionate soul on a mission behind the Game Changer Movement. A single father, fed up with violent video games he asks and dreams:

“WHAT IF we could collectively, and collaboratively create a gaming platform that redirects our youth towards playing games that answer the large questions and challenges that our world needs us to address including; global warming, water scarcity, renewable energy, and poverty?

“The Game Changer Movement aims to create a community of at least 1,000,000 youth who are courageously willing to change their game and redirect their violent gaming time to games that make a real difference in the world! With sensor technology and the internet of things, we are going to focus on the intersection of where the real world meets the virtual world.”

This is media literacy on a massive scale and I share Erik’s excitement over the implications of such a movement. I’m all in!

So, Can We Make Life More Fulfilling than a Video Game—or any screen time for that matter? Absolutely yes, we can.

Will we? The jury’s still out on that. But here’s what I know for sure:

There’s enough medial literacy resources on this one blog to keep a person busy for a lifetime; enough on the web for several incarnations. And the reality is: We don’t have to do everything. We just have to do something.

Talk. Think. Make.

Choose one everyday, consciously and intentionally. Implement with a child or teen consciously and intentionally. And there you have it! We would impact the growing trend of mindless screen use and tragic internet/video game addictions. Our kids would live whole heartedly humanely with screen technology rather than for it.

Put simply:  If we all do something, anything is possible—even life time becoming more fulfilling than screen time.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2015. All rights reserved.

 

Decreasing Risk Factors for Violent Behavior

We either protect kids or we put them at risk for violent behavior. While simply direct you and I know at the same time, it’s profoundly complex and nuanced.

As we contemplate yet two more campus shootings (Northern Arizona University and Texas Southern University) in the aftermath of the Umpqua Community College campus massacre, the predictable gun control debate ensues as it should. It is absolutely critical that we address easy access to weapons and follow the lead of countries like Canada and Australia who have developed practical, sane gun laws.

Yet equally important is the recognition that there are other risk factors that converge in a multitude of ways to form a person who wants to kill other people.

Decades of research have identified key risk factors contributing to violent behavior:

  • An abusive home life; an unstable family situation
  • Poverty
  • A steady diet of media violence; violent video games
  • Anger and depression
  • Pornography
  • Cults and gangs
  • Easy access to and a fascination with weapons
  • Peer pressure
  • An introduction to a criminal lifestyle from a family member or friend
  • Gang membership or pressure to join a gang
  • Bullying
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Lack of spiritual guidance and appropriate discipline

The more risk factors children experience, the more likely serious violence will erupt at moments of severe stress. It is precisely at such moments that kids are most likely to revert to their earliest, most visceral remembrance of violence. Consider the power of such violent “imprinting” on a little boy who watches his dad beat his mom repeatedly. He is two, three, four, or five years old and he despises this behavior and he hates his father. But if he is not careful, twenty years later, when he is under stress and he has a wife and kids, what is he likely to do? He will do the same thing he saw his father do. Why? He, of all people, should understand how despicable this behavior is, how much his children will hate him. How much he’ll hate himself. But he can’t help it—it was burned into his system at an early age and imprinted on how he deals with like situations.

Now consider that this little boy not only observes domestic violence, but is also physically abused himself. He distracts himself from the pain he experiences by watching television. Like 65 percent of kids in our country, he escapes to his bedroom and watches TV or plays violent video games. He likes watching violence. The violent imagery, in fact, reinforces and justifies the violence he is experiencing in the home. How much more likely is it that he will become a violent abuser himself?

An estimated four million American children are victimized each year by physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, community violence, and other traumatic events. When television, video games, and immersion in any form of screen technology is added to this equation, more stress is added to the child’s life. Research has found that abused children watch more television than other children do, prefer violent programs, and appear to admire violent heroes. Children who are both abused and watchers of a great deal of television are most likely to commit violent crimes later in life.Risk Protective Factors

The other side of this coin is that the cumulative risk of violent behavior lessens if there are also protective factors in the child’s life. Important protective factors include:

  • A stable family life with loving, involved parents
  • Good school performance; enjoyment of learning and reading
  • Development of talents outside screen technologies such as music, dance, art, sports, studying a foreign language
  • A mutually supportive peer group
  • Active involvement in a church, synagogue, temple; spiritual guidance
  • Community participation; involvement in schools activities such as Student Council or the debate team
  • Media literacy education in schools
  • No TV or screen time from birth through age 2; one hour or less day with all forms of screen technologies throughout childhood
  • Rules and consistent enforcement for both content viewed and use of media and digital devices, such as a bedroom free of TV and keeping the TV off when no one is watching it
  • Little or no multi-tasking with many forms of screen technologies, such as being on computer doing homework and playing video games, texting, and using social media at the same time
  • Regular family conversations; regular family meetings to discuss potentially contentious issues before they erupt; frequent conversations about violent media and media in general with parents and caring adults
  • Preventive measures, such as counseling before anger or depression get out of hand
  • Stress reduction and meditation techniques
  • A healthy lifestyle habit of physical activity and good nutrition

Realistically, then, on any given day for any given child a mix of both risk and protective factors will be present. It stands to reason that by reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors in children’s and teens’ lives, we also decrease the likelihood of future mass shootings.

Yes, it’s complicated. And, of course, it will take time. But the time to act is now with our direct influence in the lives of the children and parents in our sphere of influence.

  • When you review the protective factors above, are there any you can add to your family life? Are there any you can help a mom or dad you know become more aware of?
  • In your corner of your world with your skills, talents, passion and big heart is there any one small thing you can do each day to increase protection factors and reduce risk factors for those that you love?

Each time I hear of these horrific tragedies, I also hear a voice in my head whispering, “Do more.”

I hope you agree.

Adapted from Stop Teaching Or Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie, and Video Game Violence, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano, Harmony Books, 2014.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2015. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Media Violence: Risk Factor for Aggression (Same Old Story, Part 2)

The year was 1986. One of my high school juniors alerted me that Terry Gillian’s movie, Brazil, was a Must See. “This is what the kids today are doing,” he told me exasperated with urgent concern, as he recounted how the movie showed very young children imitated the torturous violence all around them.

“Really? You think kids today are imitating the violence they see on TV and in the movies?” I asked curiously.

“Absolutely. Check it out Ms. D. I think you would agree with me.”

Well, check it out I did. My quest led me to the dusty shelves of Suzzallo Library on the University of Washington’s campus where I was teaching part-time. I came across scores of studies that basically led me to the jaw-dropping conclusion that no further research was needed on the subject. End of story: A steady habit of media violence makes kids more aggressive. Couldn’t be clearer.

One study that stood out was a twenty-two-year longitudinal study, ending in 1985, by Professors Leonard Eron and L. Rowell Huesmann from the University of Chicago. They followed the fates of 875 children living in a semi-rural U.S. county. Their findings showed that exposure to TV violence before the age of 8 was predictive of aggressive behavior as age 19. 2 young boys playingvideo games

Since the study took place over two decades, second-generation effects could be observed: Alarmingly, childhood TV habits predicted criminal arrests at age 30. Girls and boys watching more television at age eight were later, as mothers and fathers, likely to use physical punishment with their own children more severely than those parents who had watched less television as children. Remarkably, how much television violence a thirty-year-old parent had been watching at age eight predicted their children’s degree of physical aggressiveness even better than it predicted the parents own physical aggressiveness at age thirty. The researchers pointed out that aggressive habits learned early in life can be resistant to change and “predictive of serious adult antisocial behavior.” (1) And remember this was television violence. Children younger than eight were not playing violent video games from 1963-1985.

As important as it is, most moms and dads in 2015 have never heard of this study. Let alone the thousands ever since. Imagine that. The media obviously keeps such media violence studies out of the limelight. That is why in the 2014 revision of Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill I made sure to incorporate key studies from 1970 to the present—in a concise, readable summary form. I was thinking at the time that if parents really knew how much definitive research was out there, they would have backbone information to bolster them to say “No” to their children’s pleas for the next violent video game.

 

 

One ship you can ignore, but not an armada.”

Adrian Raine, The Anatomy of Violence (2)

 

Now I am wondering if the same research repeated for decades can actually be significant? As I expressed frustrations in my July 16 post, the same old story (S.O.S.) keeps us trapped in a never-ending cycle of research and findings, research and findings, research and findings, etc. etc., while screen technologies spin out of control. Media violence, for instance, has escalated to such pathological proportions many children’s (and families’) lives are in shambles because of it. The research can only help if people know about it. And then if they know about it they want to do something about their children’s media life as a result. Sadly, the media violence research has yet to penetrate parental decision-making.

The American Psychological Association issued a new report on August 13 stating, “The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in pro-social behavior, empathy and sensitivity to aggression.”

 

I wonder…

 

  • Will this “news” be available to the people who actually make decisions on behalf of children?

 

  • And if it is, will the people who make decisions on behalf of children choose to deny it or ignore it? Or take it to heart?

 

Perhaps researchers and organizations that care about public health issues believe that they have to keep telling the Same Old Story until enough folks “get it.”

With 3 million U. S. kids currently seriously damaging multiple levels of their lives because of their gaming habits (3), we may have to get really bored with the Same Old Story until enough folks “get it.” How many more decades will that take, do you think?

And when that alleluia day comes, please note:

It will be too late for a high quality life for at least 3 million of our youth.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2015. All rights reserved.

 

References

1.   Eron and Huesmann longitudinal study and 1986 study cite in: L. Rowell Huesman, “The impact of electronic media violence: scientific theory and research,” Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 41, no. 6, December 2007, 6-13.

2.  One ship you can ignore, but not an armada: Adrian Raine, The Anatomy of Violence. New York: Pantheon Books, 2013, 44-45.

3.  3 million children seriously damaging multiple areas of their lives because of their gaming habits: Douglas A. Gentile in Andrew P. Doan and Brooke Strickland, Hooked on Games: The Lure and Cost of Video Game and Internet Addiction, (F.E.P International, Inc., 2012), 10.

Great Article, But Is It the Same Old Story (S.O.S.)?

Jane Brody’s July 6 New York Times article, “Screen Addiction is Taking a Toll on Children,” clearly lays out the negative consequences of overuse of electronic media. She gives accurate stats, quotes experts, and shares personal concerns about her own grandchildren to make important points.

As much as I admire the article, while reading it, I thought—with a frustrating sigh—Same. Old. Story. Similar clarion calls about screen dangers have been with us for a long time now.children reading newspaper

For instance, Brody repeats predictable on-going complaints:

“Teenagers who spend a lot of time playing violent video games or watching violent shows on television have been found to be more aggressive and more likely to fight with their peers and argue with their teachers, according to a study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.” Please don’t herald this as new information.

Actually this critically important research has been with us since the 70s, but researchers keep researching it. I guess that’s what researchers do—they research and writers make the research known, as if the new research is new when in reality it is the S.O.S. Few readers realize that when writers make old news seem like new news it distracts us from key issues and even viable solutions.

Brody also states: “Schoolwork can suffer when media time infringes on reading and studying.” Yes, of course. Who wouldn’t understand this connection?

Brody also makes the important point, citing research, of course. “… the sedentary nature of most electronic involvement — along with televised ads for high-calorie fare — can foster the unhealthy weights already epidemic among the nation’s youth.” But wait, isn’t this obvious by now?

In an August 16, 1991 article, Boston Globe columnist, Ellen Goodman discussed the American Academy Pediatrics call “for a ban on television food ads…hard on the heels of a study showing that one Saturday morning of TV cartoons contained 202 junk-food ads. The kids see, want, and nag. That is, after all, the theory behind advertising to children, since few 6-year-olds have their own trust funds. The end result, said the pediatricians, is obesity and high cholesterol.”

Sounds too familiar, doesn’t it?

I would enjoy seeing mass media tackle such questions as: “Why is school work and health taking a back seat to screen entertainment and communication for most kids, when most parents, schools, and all of sane society promote and know the value of excellent health and a solid education? Now there’s something interesting, dare I say even new to most, for discussion and debate.

You’re probably too young to remember Maria Winn’s seminal work regarding TV addiction. First published in 1977 (and revised in 1985, 1987, and 2002). Television: The Plug-In Drug, (A quaint title through our Goggle glasses, don’t you think?) related story after story of families unable to stop watching TV, even after a year of being paid not to watch—they went back to watching even more TV after screen-free time.

So dear friends, please remember, especially come next April with hyped Screen-Free Week: Weeks, even months off screen crack don’t work, never worked, and never will work. But that’s another story for another time. Yet, it’s the Same. Old. Story, isn’t it?

Jane Brody’s follow-up July 13 New York Times article. “How to Cut Screen Time, Say ‘No’ to Yourself First” offers sound advice to parents—the people fully in charge of and responsible for children’s screen time. Suggestions such as not to be on the phone when picking up children from school or keeping dinner time phone-free, so parents and children can talk to one another are excellent suggestions. Put in perspective, though, they are the S.O.S.

Why do today’s parents need such common sense advice in the first place? Why are they seemingly abdicating their responsibility? No easy answers here.

Consider Goodman’s astute 1991 observation, a refreshing deviation from the S.O.S. “…it occurs to me now that the call for “’parental responsibility’” is increasing in direct proportion to the irresponsibility of the marketplace. Parents are expected to protect their children from an increasingly hostile environment.” She goes on to emphasize, “Americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition to them.”

And as Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, then a research associate at the Institute for American Values, explained in this same article, ”Parents see themselves in a struggle for the hearts and minds of their own children. It isn’t that they can’t say no. It’s that there’s so much more to say no to.” Remember, she said this in 1991. In 2015, Brody admonishes parents to say “No” to themselves, adding yet another “no” on the toppling digital cake.

In 1994 Dr. Thomas Lickona’s seminal book, “Raising Good Children: from Birth Through the Teenage Years,” cited research that showed US parents talked with their elementary school aged children in actual conversations (Not counting parental questions as, “Did you do your homework?” Or commands like, “Pick up your room.”), ten minutes a week. Yes, you read that correctly. Parents and children were disconnected back then, too.

Today, with portable devices shadowing what used to be real life, with even more to say no to, we are beyond a crisis in parent-child communication. And with more to say no to, how do parents figure out what to say yes to?

I would like mass media to consider deeper questions such as: Why a small screen so easily replaces life so completely that well-intentioned, well-educated, loving parents can’t see what havoc it wreaks on their everyday life—not to mention their child’s cognitive, social and emotional well-being. And what if anything should be done about it? And if anything should be done about it, why do we think something should be done about it? What are the purposes of screens, anyway? How do they enhance our lives? What would life enhancement by screens look like? Feel like?

Of course,  mass media can’t tackle such questions. Complex ideas necessitate more to think about—let alone write about—than the typical S.O.S.

But we can and must think new, complex ideas and share them profusely—with our friends, associates, relatives, on our blogs, in our emails, and PTA Newsletters—unless we want to remain in the oscillating pattern of the S.O.S, which keeps us trapped, pointing out the ever-increasing problems, proclaiming parents need to do something about it, and then telling parents what to do about it—ad nauseum.

A major piece missing from the S.O.S. is the fact that parents are caught up in a tech tsunami and have little, and often no understanding of, how their digital habits are affecting their children. Even with the thousands of articles and hundreds of books.

Writing about the issues doesn’t mean that parents are learning about them.

And even when parents know the dangers of over-use of screens on their children’s psyche and development and really want to do something to change the situation, that doesn’t mean they can put the great ideas of the S.O.S. into practice in their daily lives.

Telling is not educating and information is not working knowledge.

To change the S.O.S. one of the first steps is to simply acknowledge that we are in a complex system with many influencing factors. (What Ellen Goodman was doing in 1991.) We need to get off our high horses thinking that telling parents what to do will solve our problems.

We all want to belong, even moms and dads. This is fully human, but easily side tracked in our society. Researching through Siri or finding the best app to monitor our calorie intake or texting a friend for a new recipe or during any of all the myriad of human uses for the machines, we show we are an integral part of the whole of an amazing technological world. We demonstrate we are caught up (in more ways than one); we know what we are doing in our high tech world. And yes, maybe we are even cool because we have the latest i-phone or now wear that watch.

Yet, in the midst of our screen use, most of us aren’t saying, “Wow, now I belong to a handful of men who own and operate the technological world. Isn’t it wonderful that they constrain my choices, decide the time I will spend in actual conversation with my children, and basically dictate my daily schedule?”

No, the S.O.S. won’t discuss that underlying reality. But I hope you will.

 

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2015. All rights reserved.

Swiping Isn’t Creating, But We Know That, Don’t We?

I am currently coaching a conscious single mom who diligently limits her two-year old’s access to her cell phone. Not. Easy. Yet, this mother truly understands that swiping doesn’t give her little one a chance to create. She knows her son needs to feel this beautiful world with all his senses, using the stuff of this beautiful (wood, straw, sand, clay, paint, etc.) world to manifest something—anything—into reality that springs forth from his creative mind. It’s this conceptual anchor that buoys her up when she is tempted—and she is tempted often, of course—to hand over the cell phone and just be done with it already.

But she doesn’t. She knows she won’t and can’t be done with it until her child is an adult. Until then she gets to make the decisions about what she will and won’t allow into his experiences. That’s her job, after all.

I love coaching parents like her who really want to do their best and are doing their best in the face of so many odds against getting it right for their children. I believe it is a moral imperative of our times to help parents figure this out—since the high tech industry isn’t. And won’t. So, I do. And I help other family support professionals do the same.

One way I found to be successful is to re-frame the situation as a creative opportunity for parents—now they get to dig deeply into their inner Creative Source to figure out how to entertain a a young child without using a smart phone. Using a smart phone to keep a baby occupied is a dumb idea writes Michael Miller in Washington Post article. I concur. And that’s why I affirm this mom (and all my clients): “You are a smart mom, smarter than any smart phone and you know that!” And she does. baby swiping

Swiping isn’t creating. Don’t be fooled by the bill of goods pushed on you. That it’s OK for babies and toddlers to use screens to learn. Hogwash. Their brains’ architecture isn’t constructed yet to take the full advantage of learning by screen. A baby or toddler who swipes will be more at risk for attention and self-regulation problems, aggressiveness, and anti-social behaviors. You can count on it. Since swiping robs the young child of precious time necessary to explore the natural world, the child can’t possibly grow up in tact as a human.

The magical child within in today’s society has no voice and is fast being replaced by the tiny technocrat which is absurd when you really think about it.

I have devoted a chapter on Creative Expressions in my book, Parenting Well in a Media Age, including it as one of the 5 essential needs that make us and keep us human. In our screen-machine age a lot of folks are getting mixed up about what constitutes creative expression and what doesn’t. Handing over a flat surface, screen-machine to any human creature under the age of 3 doesn’t constitute an opportunity for his/her creative expression within the definition of creative expression appropriate for that age and stage of development.

2D vs. 3D Reality or Screen Machines are Not the Natural World, But We Know That, Don’t We?

The cell phone or the i-pad or surface tablet, or whatever, is a two-dimensional flat surface. When swiping, the youngster’s attention is on a partial view not the whole view. Losing one entire dimension is a big thing at this age and stage of development. The way society remains neutral about this fact frustrates and angers me because with just a bit of accurate information and non-judgmental encouragement, well-meaning parents could do so much better by their youngsters. And eliminate  many future pitfalls as well.

If we think we have problems with autism, sensory integration problems, lack of self-regulation and the other plethora of  concerns emerging in recent times, just wait a few years and watch these skyrocket as young humans deprived of their most essential need—to explore their natural environment—become ever so reliant on screens for feelings of satisfaction and pseudo-fulfillment. And if we think our schools are failing our kids now, in five years (60 months) from now when these swiping babies enter kindergarten, you will see teachers and school districts scrambling to figure out how to put their fingers in the dike, when they are not using them to pull out their hair.

Is it too late?

The trouble began when six month old fingers started swiping instead of cuddling a soft toy, shaking a rattle, or holding a hand. The trouble got more complicated when those two-year old fingers swiped even more and missed opportunities for molding mud pies, digging in sand, even finger painting–on paper.

Let’s face it, after age five years of swiping those fingers will have completely forgotten their earlier marching orders. Swiping is what they will know best and what they do best. All the rest…well, why do it?

Before that time arrives, let’s hope that adults’ Creative Expression will soon kick in. If adults can quickly figure out productive ways to keep a baby and a toddler interested in the natural world more than the screen world and participating in the natural world more than the screen world, we have a fighting chance of giving our children an enriched human life—a life in which they know themselves as creators. A life in which they enjoy creating from their highest Self, for their highest purpose.

Without such a life they can’t possibly love and respect the natural world and their place in it. But we know that, don’t we?

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2015. All rights reserved.

Feel Something New!

My yoga instructor encourages us during class, “Feel something new!” She wants us to carefully observe our bodily sensations during the poses and then to key in to any new feeling, no matter how slight. A novel feeling means a change underway, maybe subtle, but potentially significant. What was previously unfamiliar may become, in short order, your knowing guide to fresh insights.

The health benefits of yoga continue to make the news. Good for both physical health and mental focus, hatha yoga can keep us tuned in and tuned up. In a recent blog post, Dr. Diane Dreher, Santa Clara professor and best selling author, summarizes the wide range of research that demonstrates outstanding effects from a regular yoga practice.  kittySTRREEETTTCCCHHH

But “feeling something new” wasn’t something I thought I would focus on, when I recently took up yoga again after a long hiatus. However, I have come to embrace this metaphor not only in my yoga practice, but also in my training PCI Certified Parent Coaches® in order to help make their work with parents more effective for two major reasons:

It can be downright scary and majorly uncomfortable to feel something new.

Think of the Seahawks—the team, Pete Carroll, the 12s—that dreadfully new feeling of losing when oh so close. Without intentional perspective, these kinds of new feelings can be bummers. I think it helps immensely to keep a distance and like a curious detective say to ourselves, “Hmm…haven’t felt that in a long time.” Or “Gosh, that’s a new way to feel about this, let’s see if I can find another new way that feels more comfortable.”

Underneath the invitation to, “feel something new” hides the fact that with a little practice we can make choices to feel better when we feel bad. Rejoice! We can feel something new!

“What’s new about this feeling?’ can be a profound question to ask a teenager in the heat of an argument. It will naturally create a reflective moment; a time to check in with self. Or asking a child at any age, “How can you bring something new to what you are feeling now?” can be encouragement to move out of a terrible feeling into a more tolerable one.

When kids are with screens, it’s the same old story.

Play the app game and feel competent if you win; frustrated if you lose. Play the violent video game and feel joyous over causing another to suffer. (Let us pause a moment to consider that what are solidly psychopathic feelings are regularly felt by millions of kids whenever they play a modern-day violence video game.)

Watch TV and feel yourself an observer, never a participant. Play with any two 2-D device and never feel an ounce of the bodily sensations that making a fort with blankets over the coffee table will give you or not nearly the feelings of wonder at your body when you run through grass in the sunshine or make mud pies in the rain.

A child coloring and feeling a normal-sized crayon in her hand…that’s one type of feeling. Give her an over-sized crayon, now that’s another feeling. She has to explore her competence with the big crayon. When she tries watercolors, she starts experiencing different feelings, various bodily sensations and then and only then can she understand the distinctions between coloring and laying thin watercolors on paper. Give her a handful of clay and the sensations, feelings, once again are new, distinguished from others felt in other circumstances.

When our children experience life of the 3-dimensional reality kind—they get the advantage of feeling something new—every time.  

And in this process called life, and only in this process, do children feel themselves anew—every time, too.

 Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2015. All rights reserved.