Tag Archives: children and media

Putting the Squeeze on Tired Parents


commons wikimedia.org
                           commons wikimedia.org

A caution about avoiding the use of a common sanity-saver could not help but raise the dissonance level of already stretched parents.

The concern to raise kids that are well launched into this world remains high on the list of goals parents set for themselves. This seems especially true for those first-time owners of a brand new infant who have also been exposed to the behavioral sciences. Little did they know at the time that those required college courses in psychology would firmly plant the seed for the view that early child-rearing choices may have monumental consequences later on.

This is one reason parenting has gone from being something that just happens along the bumpy path of life to becoming a consequential obligation that must be mastered. There is the added realization that even a decades-long commitment is no guarantee that a near-perfect original will emerge.  Parents have always wanted the best for their kids. And there are many routes to successful childrearing. But the current financial and existential squeeze especially on the middle class creates adds pressure to deliver children to the world who are ready to compete on the fastest tracks of success.

No wonder modern families are stretched.  In addition to higher child-rearing expectations, many external factors add to the burden. In more regions of the country it now takes two incomes to support a household. Add to the mix  the required tools of competent child-rearing—a virtual armada of furniture, expensive child carriers, monitors, pediatricians, learning toys and the right food. And then there are the mostly self-induced distractions that still define the aspirations of early adulthood: showing a game face on social media, meeting the needs of relatives and grandparents, child care costs, having a social life, and fulfilling the desire to take advantage of what media and the larger culture can offer. No wonder these working parents feel stretched to the limit.

So it’s no surprise that a widely discussed piece of advice coming from the prestigious American Academy of Pediatrics would be greeted with a wince more than an embrace.  The wording of a caution about avoiding the use of a common-sanity saver could not help but raise the dissonance level in this already stretched group. The advice?  The academy cautions parents to not expose their toddlers to screens of any kind.

Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.

We are accustomed to recommendations from medical professionals that put the squeeze on cherished habits.  But this one cannot help but create ambivalence in parents who know well the pacifying tendencies of glowing screens. Has the Academy never noticed that a child in complete meltdown rejoins the human race if bought off with a youtube video or a favorite cartoon show?  Isn’t that why the tablet was invented?  What unwired planet do the members of the Academy inhabit?

There is a serious issue here. Screens are addictive. And they do tend to still a restless and active child.

There is a serious issue here. Screens are addictive. And they do tend to still a restless and active child. That restlessness is the source of endless daily cycles of curiosity and exploration that are essential to the growing process. Childhood is where self-motivated learning is either fostered or mostly extinguished.

I’ve written many times about the effects of “screen thrall,” the semi-frozen state of immobility that comes over most children and adults caught by the need to follow others  continuously on a video. To be sure, much of this content engages.  But the level of engagement is better labeled para-social rather than fully “social.”1  Our involvement with screen characters is obviously stunted by the “one-way” nature of the medium.

One effect extended into older childhood shows up in one telling observation that many older adults report: the near absence of children playing alone or with others outside their homes or in nearby parks. It seems that too many American children have vacated the safe open spaces that these adults remember and romanticize from their own pasts.


1Joshua Meyrowitz, No Sense of Place (New York: Oxford, 1985), 118-121.

Comments: woodward@tcnj.edu


Resolutions for Better Communication

                  Shawangunk Ridge, The Catskills, New York

It’s time for the annual ritual of making promises to ourselves about what we will change in the coming year.  In that spirit, consider six resolutions that would make us better partners in a wide range of communication settings. 

  • Resolve to be a better listener.

    Becoming an engaged listener is like losing weight: it’s harder than it sounds.  It requires momentarily giving ourselves over to what another is saying.  That must include minimizing other distractions, turning off the far too loquacious chatterbox camped out in our brains, and accepting the challenge of bringing our full attention to another. We can’t do this with everyone all the time.  Listening for nuance is work.  Start with the people that matter most.

  • Protect your soul by deciding to be a more thoughtful gatekeeper.

    We allow a lot of worthless messages into our lives:  junk journalism, junk advertising, aimless web-browsing, mean-spirited trolls and the self-obsessed. As tech writer Farhad Manjoo recently noted in the New York Times, the Internet is “loud, shrill, reflexive and ugly.”  It “now seems to be on constant boil.”   So it takes far more personal discipline to keep this stuff at bay and to hold on to our social equilibrium.

  • Work to put a reasonable limit on the time your children spend with all kinds of screens.

    Virtual reality is a desert compared to the natural world.  Rediscover local parks or just the simple pleasures of a walk around the block.  Remember that even young children are naturally weatherized.  Most love to be out and active in the cold.

  • Resolve to save important feelings and information for face to face discussion.

    Proximity with others usually brings out the best in us.  Media that act as surrogates for ourselves (even “social” media) offer only selected approximations of the real deal.

  • Listen to more music.

    Because it’s almost exclusively the language of feeling, music unites us in ways that ordinary rhetoric can’t.

  • With the possible exception of those strange relatives up in Duluth, resist dividing the world into “us” and “them.”

    Human complexities always trump simple binaries.  Even after this brutal presidential election we need the intellectual honesty to acknowledge that simple fact.

      Happy Holidays!


Comments: Woodward@tcnj.edu