Saturday, October 25, 2008

Media and Learning

A woman in one of my classes told a story about the effect of media on her young 4 year old son. He was watching a show on public TV with one of his friends who was a girl. At some point in the show, the main character who was male was playing with a boy and a girl. There was something that the girl character perceived as heavy, so she opted not to do it. And the main character commented that girls couldn't do it, implying they weren't strong enough. The two children who were watching this show got into a discussion. The girl said she thought girls could do whatever they wanted. Then, her son said, "No girls can't do that." Well, my student, the mom of this boy stepped in to reassure both children that whether you are a boy or a girl did not limit by itself the choices made during play time. Her son said, "No, mommy, you are wrong."

So here he is, four years old, and mommy is wrong. And the TV is right. She told her husband she didn't want their son to watch this show any more. They have been very careful about what they let him watch, and now this show was passing on values and attitudes about girls and boys and their abilities and strengths that she thought were biased.

I'm not one who believes we should completely ban media from children. We can't. Some kids will even make choices to spend time with certain children because they have a TV or a certain video game. But, we do need to monitor the TV, movies and video games that kids are watching. When children spend a lot of time with media activities, they may be absorbing beliefs that we don't agree with. I suspect, though I am not sure, that this 4 year old may have had a different reaction if his father had responded with the same kind of statement that his mother offered. He may have already learned that being a girl means you are limited in your abilities.

Children are learning all the time. They are constantly receiving new information and making decisions about what is right. Our open communication with them also helps them learn how to assess the truth. Young children can have very "black and white" - "either/or" thinking. It is our job to stretch their perspectives.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rising above the fear

Everywhere we turn, bad news. Life is tough for most people now days. The shaky economic picture is having an impact on almost everyone. We feel pretty powerless. What are we to do?

The ostrich hides its head in the sand. What good does this do? Denial doesn't get us anywhere but stuck in la-la land. But at the same time, we need to be realistic. There are things we can do to make sure that life keeps chugging along. Taking care of daily business is one of those things. Sometimes we just need to put one foot in front of the other and do the next thing, whatever that is. We still have to go to work. There are all kinds of household responsibilities that keep calling us. We need to take care of ourselves, even though sometimes we feel joined at the hip to the news media. Turn it off and take a walk.

And have some fun. With family members and friends. Children can definitely pick up on our anxieties. They don't understand what's going on. Sadly, they often internalize our fears and wonder what they have done to make us anxious or upset. Yes, they need to know that we may need to change our routines some. They don't need to know all of the financial details. They need reassurance from us that we are taking care of them.

We also need joy in our lives, especially when things seem so gloomy. Noticing the good things is not about being in the dark or hiding from the truth. Joy and pleasures are all around us. This beautiful day. The support of a friend or loved one. The curiosity and questions of a child. Giggles and smiles. Hugs. Simple expressions of gratitude. Noticing the joys in our life help to renew our spirits and give us more energy to cope with life.

We can become very stressed by the fact that times are tough. Or we can rise above our fears by taking care of business each day and remembering the value of family and friends. Love and support help to carry us through difficult times.