Parenting a Media-Savvy Generation

Once my husband and I took a rare opportunity to have a date night leaving our six-year-old twins with what we thought were capable babysitters. Well, were we surprised when returning home we found the twins finishing up the R-rated movie The Matrix.

We have found it virtually impossible to shield our boys from Big Media’s bombardment of images and lifestyle choices of the current crop of celebrities. Yesterday’s Snooki is today’s Kardashian. The Simpsons used to be horrible, now it’s South Park and The Family Guy.

Sexual Teens, Sexual Media: Investigating Media’s Influence on Adolescent Sexuality had this to say about the subject a few years ago: “From Anthony Comstock’s late 19th-century crusade against ‘obscene’ literature to present-day parents’ anxious suspicion that news reports on the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal introduced adolescents to oral sex, Americans have blamed the mass media for inciting youth to ostensibly inappropriate sexual behavior.”

Then there’s Bella’s influence in Twilight showing teenagers that it’s totally cool to have sex with a vampire, just in case they ever meet one (or a werewolf) at high school?  I think Bella has a lot more influence than Clinton ever had on the sexual behavior America’s teens.

Parents have always worried about the influence media has upon their children’s behavior. Did you hear that in 1905 a Brooklyn librarian banned Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn from the children’s section? The librarian said these two characters were “bad examples for ingenuous youth.”  She ordered the books removed from the children’s section because of their "coarseness, deceitfulness, and mischievous practices."

So what’s a parent to do?  Is there a strategy beyond banning books, pitching the television in the garbage and never, ever, allowing children to have access to a cellphone?  Most media experts recommend a sane strategy for dealing with the influences, both good and bad, of media in a child’s life.

1) Co-Watch: Parents should consume the same media while using the time as a teachable moment, not a starting point for a lecture on the evils of media. As adults we’ve erected a filter to combat the need for all of the sugary cereals and cheap plastic toys being hawked by corporations in the endless commercials. How did we learn to discern? Teach your kids those same filters.

2) Provide Alternatives:  My mother was disgusted by the quality of television we consumed when I was young – think endless hours of Gilligan’s Island. Every time I watched another mindless television show, it left me feeling bad and bloated – much like consuming too much Easter candy. I wish, instead, that she had come alongside of me as an advocate for my mind and offered a tasty alternative. How about switching over to PBS, sitting down and having a heart-to-heart conversation, or taking me to the library for a new stack of books?

3) Discuss My Choices: I don’t think we explain our behavior to our children enough. We think they “get” our thinking just because we’re older. Explain why you refuse to watch certain television shows because they demean women or are full of violence. This will empower them to make their own intelligent decisions.

4) Spend the Time:  As a parent in a busy household, I have an overwhelming To Do List. Which would I prefer to do? Watch a vapid episode of Family Guy or South Park, play another round of Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, or wash the clothes that are piled on the laundry room floor? It’s awful tempting to accomplish my list while my children are occupied, but raising children well takes lots of time and lots of energy. And talking. There’s a heck of a lot more talking than I ever did with my own father or mother.

David and Paul have actually grown into pretty decent human beings, despite their early introduction to The Matrix.  And there have been benefits. David to this day can walk on walls and dodge bullets but Paul took the red pill and may grow up to become a philosopher.

Remember, it was Morpheus who said, “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”


For more info on Raising Media Savvy Kids, go to: where they post reviews of the latest movies, television and media targeted to your kids.


May 3 Webinar Tackles Media Depictions of African-American Men and Boys

Last October, The Opportunity Agenda, a New York-based advocacy group, released a new report about the influence of media in regards to national perceptions of African-American men. The report, "Opportunity for Black Men and Boys: Public Opinion, Media Depictions, and Media Consumption," covered a decade’s worth of research, concluding that depictions of black males were frequently distorted and unrealistically presented in media compared to national data sets and statistics.

The Opportunity Agenda Executive Director, Alan Jenkins, will join Dori J. Maynard, president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, for a webinar presentation next month to discuss the report’s findings.

The one-hour web broadcast, scheduled for May 3 at 3 p.m., will examine how Americans’ attitudes towards African-American males are potentially shaped by media portrayals, including the depictions of black youth in news reports, advertising and entertainment.

Additionally, Jenkins and Maynard are expected to discuss ways in which media outlets can change the way they present depictions of African-American youth. According to a press release for the event, the “Briefing on Media Coverage of Black Males” webinar will instruct media personnel on how to “be part of the solution in creating a fuller picture of black men and boys, greater knowledge and fewer irrational fears of innocent black males.”

The webinar requires registration, which can be accessed at the Opportunity Agenda website.

California May Ease Restrictions on Media Access to Prisoners

The California State Assembly is considering a bill that would ease restrictions for members of the press to interview prisoners. The legislation, known as AB-1270, passed unanimously out of the Public Safety Committee Jan. 10 before being referred on to the Appropriations Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Public Safety Committee Chair Tom Ammiano, requires the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) to permit reporters to interview inmates personally in California's prison unless the warden determines the interview poses an immediate threat to public safety or the security of the institution. Reporters must request the interview in advance. The warden then has 48 hours to respond.

Once an interview has been granted the warden is required to notify the victim or their family of the interview at least two days prior.

The new law also allows reporters more freedom to record interviews. Previous legislation prohibited the use of cameras and other recording equipment. AB-1270 would allow the use of recording equipment that prison staff have inspected before entering the prison.

Supporters of the bill include the ACLU, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, California Newspaper Publishers Association and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

Photo by Flickr | billaday

Show that you care, real juvenile justice depends upon you

Since the beginning of the Georgia legislative session our reporter Chandra Thomas and our supporting staff of editors, interns and freelancers have been closely watching all legislation aimed at juvenile justice issues.

Chandra Thomas

Thomas had two excellent round-up stories yesterday and today targeting which bills would move forward and which would not on crossover day.

I opened my Atlanta Journal-Constitution today to see how its coverage of these juvenile justice bills compared with ours here at the From what I could see there was nothing to compare. I saw nothing about Senate Bill 127, which is a rewrite of the juvenile code. An issue we covered intensely even before it was introduced into the house. Much to the chagrin of its supporters it will not move forward. We will, in the days to come, analyze why it did not progress.

Leonard Witt

HB 185, the Runaway Youth Safety Act, which, as Thomas wrote, would have allowed homeless shelters to provide emergency housing and services to runaway children.

The two are among more than a dozen bills, which only the has covered on a persistent basis. This is not a dig at the other media. Dropping circulation and falling advertising revenues mean that cuts have to be made. Since areas like juvenile justice do not translate into big audience returns, their coverage is often the first to go. Which means the public will learn less and less about a system that touches more that 50,000 kids a year and thousands of state employees whose jobs are related to the various aspects of juvenile justice from safety to victimization to incarceration to deprivation.

It’s the mission of the Center for Sustainable Journalism to find ways to sustain niche journalism areas like juvenile justice. Why? Because it is obvious if we don’t cover them no one else will.

However, in the long run we can’t do it alone. We will need support. We know several thousand people, just like you, care about these issues and visit the to keep informed. The first step is for you to please sign up for our newsletter. Or supply us with story tips. Or write for our opinion pages. Or provide your advice on what might sustain us in the long run.

Eventually, we, just like public broadcasting, will have to have a funding drive. For now, please just sign up at the newsletter or, if you are in a hurry like us, at Facebook. Please take one of these small steps to demonstrate that you care because we know you do.