One of the biggest challenges of parenting in the Information Age is helping children navigate the constant stimulus they receive from video games, television, and the Internet. These cultural outlets are increasingly saturated in sexualized images, and parents struggle to give their children access to a cultural life while protecting them from negative influence.
“In the 80s, before the Reagan administration FCC deregulation, we used to spend 10 million dollars to advertise to adults for kid toys. Now, not only do we advertise directly to kids, but the industry is at 17 billion dollars per year,” says Diane Levin, author of So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and How Parents Can Protect Their Kids (with Jean Kilbourne).
Levin will speak at Inly’s Meehan Family Artsbarn at 8:45 AM on Tuesday, April 27. Levin made an impression on Inly faculty during her recent presentation at the annual American Montessori Society conference, where she discussed how an overly-sexualized culture is taking hold in children, contributing to negative gender roles and precocious sexual behavior. Levin offers strategies to help parents guide their children to independent decision-making in the face of the constant barrage of images.
Head of School Donna Milani Luther says she was not surprised by Levin’s message, and agreed with Levin’s call to strengthen children’s independent decision-making. “Paying attention, giving our children opportunities to use their own imaginations and playing with things that are not above their developmental abilities will help us raise a healthy generation in an unhealthy culture.”
Inly’s physical education specialist Cathy Harder-Bernier was particularly struck by Levin’s description of a syndrome she calls “PSDD,” Problem Solving Deficit Disorder. “It refers to the difficulties some children have using critical thinking and problem solving skills because their organized/structured lives have been handed to them by well-meaning parents who want their kids to have it easier or better lives than their own.”
Middle School teacher Paran Quigley found Levin’s tie between early creativity and defense against negative culture powerful. “She encourages kids to play with toys that have multiple uses (things that are just punching gloves allow for little creativity, whereas model clay allows for a lot of creativity, etc..)” Creative thinking gives children tools they need later on to fight ready-made cultural ideas. Parent need to tap into their children’s creative thinking skills as they advise them on media choices later on. “As adults helping kids make good choices about the media they consume, avoid the ‘just say no’ or ‘just because mom/dad said so’ approach,” Quigley added. “Engage kids in conversation about why you think some toys, movies, video games, etc. are better than others.”
Other tips Levin shares include:
- Encouraging kids to problem-solve on their own (in disputes with friends/siblings/parents, in deciding what to do on a rainy day, etc..)
- Encouraging kids to play games that are collaborative and help them develop compassion and empathy skills (for example, playing “house” and trying different roles, to help them see how their mom or their older brother or their pet goldfish, etc. might view a situation, etc..)
Diane Levin is Professor of Education at Wheelock College in Boston, Massachusetts. She speaks around the world on the impact of violence, media and other societal issues on children, families and schools. Please join us for an illuminating discussion of media and social trends affecting our children.