“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.


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 info@GloriaDeGaetano.com 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!)

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.

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.