Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Where do you draw the line?

This post was written by guest blogger Brandy King of Knowledge Linking. After spending the last eight years working with research on children and media, Brandy now faces the challenge of raising two young boys in our media-saturated and commercialized world.

When I was interviewing other parents about how they handle holiday gifts, I had two mothers say the same thing to me: I let my kids have licensed characters on pajamas, but not on any other clothes. Their rationale was that they didn’t want their children to be walking advertisements.

I had never thought of commercialization in terms of items used in the home vs. out of the home. So this got me thinking: How is it that I draw the line? What are the determining factors I use to make decisions around commercialized items? And what criteria do other parents use?

I realized that my determining factor essentially comes down to the intent behind the gift. For example, I’ve let a few Mickey Mouse shirts slip into my kids’ wardrobe because they were brought home as gifts from Disney World by close relatives. And I let a Cars racetrack toy through because my son’s Godfather excitedly picked it out as a Christmas gift and couldn’t wait to put it together with him. But when acquaintances pick up a quick gift to bring with them with they visit, they seem to automatically go for whatever they can find with the latest “boy-oriented” Disney character on it. Since my kids don’t really know Disney characters, and don’t usually become attached to the gift, off to charity it goes.

Since this “intent criteria” is not hard and fast, I often wonder if I’m being hypocritical. But in the end, I always come back to my real goal being “commercialization in moderation”, so I feel OK about the very few commercialized items we do have in the house. And just like decisions around what to feed a baby or how to put them to sleep, I believe that what ultimately matters is that it’s the most comfortable decision for that individual family.

Other parents, like the friends I interviewed, had certain delineations, certain rules, that they could more easily apply; characters were either allowed (pajamas), or not allowed (school clothes). (I’m assuming this is more useful criteria than mine when it comes to helping kids understand why decisions are made). And some parents feel like they ultimately want no part of supporting certain companies, so just make a blanket rule not to allow anything even questionably commercialized into the house.

I’m really curious to hear from other parents about how they make decisions. In fact, I’m so interested to hear and learn from others that I am co-hosting a Twitter chat with CCFC on this very topic! I hope you’ll join us, here are the details:

Parenting in a Commercialized World: Where Do You Draw the Line?

February 2nd, 2012 at 9pm EST at hashtag #CCFCchat
Hosted by:
Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood
Twitter: @commercialfree
Brandy King
of Knowledge Linking Information Services Twitter: @knowldgelinking
Melissa Wardy
of Pigtail Pals – Redefine Girly Twitter: @pigtailpals
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Where Do Parents Find Support in their Communities?

This post was written by guest Mary Rothschild, facilitator of Witness for Childhood in collaboration with CCFC. Mary, who is the mother of 2 daughters and has worked with pre-school age children and served parents and teachers of children birth to age 8 for fifteen years through Healthy Media Choices.

A friend of mine, mother of two small children, calls this the “cuddling in” time of year. The holidays are over and life settles into a regular pattern and (in our part of the country, at least) the short days and cold weather keep family closer to home. It’s a good time for reflection.

If the bill has yet to come due for the gifts given a mere month ago (where are they now?) this is a good time to make strategies for more intentional getting and giving for the coming birthdays and, eventually, for those holidays again.

That’s not so easy; how do families get the local support they need for that intentionality?

What I hear is that parents talk to each other about concerns that the ways they’re spending their time and money don’t adequately reflect their values. Those friendships form bedrock for many. Then, there are the occasional workshops at school or house of worship around violence or representation of sexuality in screen media.

I’d like to reflect here on another resource: faith and humanist communities, by which I don’t just mean the major religions and humanist organizations, but whatever group gathers specifically for a connection with values and beliefs. There are groups of parents that align around specific parenting issues: breastfeeding or natural parenting, for instance, that might be included. It is difficult to find a term to cover them all.

Don’t such groups afford an ideal situation for focusing on these issues? Here are some questions, for each to ponder about their own circumstance, to start off our conversation:

• Is there recognition of the fact, in religious education curricula or parent workshops, that exposure to screen media can impact the spiritual development of young children, not just because of violence and representations of sexuality, but because it cuts into quiet time and free play, which area essential for children’s development?

• Do families have a venue for sharing strategies about situations that arise about play dates as well a birthday and holiday gifts?

• Stories from family and culture are great alternatives to the popular culture story. Do your children hear those stories of strength, sacrifice, and fulfillment without material wealth?

• Are any community resources for parents usually framed as being for mothers? Including all the adults who live with the child makes changes easier and more effective.

• Does the community take advantage of opportunities such as Screen-Free Week and/or encourage families to establish less formal and more consistent “Media Sabbaths” where all electronics are turned off, even for a couple of hours a week? Is that discussion happening?

• Do you feel supported by your community in your attempts to give your child a commercial-free childhood? If not, what could you do to elicit that support (and find others who are feeling the same way)?

• Faith and humanist communities have long been effective agents for change on a national and global level. Is activism around the commercialization of childhood on the agenda in your community?

• If your community does provide this kind of support, how is it going and what resources might your share?

The essential question is this: Is the impact of screen media on young children’s spiritual development a burning issue for your community? If not, why not?

Thanks, please share below.
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