Saturday, March 31, 2012

Go Screen-Free April 30 - May 6

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood organizes an annual "Screen-Free Week," and this year the week is April 30-May 6.
"Screen-Free an annual celebration where children, families, schools and communities turn off screens and turn on life. Instead of relying on screens for entertainment, participants read, daydream, explore, enjoy nature, and enjoy spending time with family and friends. 

Screen-Free Week isn't just about snubbing screens for seven days; it's a springboard for important lifestyle changes that will improve well-being and quality of life all year round."
The Screen-Free Week web site explains additional benefits to turning the screens off.
Time with screens is linked to poor school performance, childhood obesity, and attention problems. And it is primarily through screens that children are exposed to harmful marketing.
Parents and educators can order a Screen-Free Week Organizer's Tool Kit. I've ordered mine; I'll share more about it once I get a chance to look it over!

A few weeks ago, I blogged about organizing a similar event. Now that I've found Screen-Free Week, I think I'll just promote this wonderful event that already has momentum.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Disasters in the News: How to Help Your Family Cope

Source: Agence France-Presse (AFP);
It has already been one year since the devastating tsunami hit Japan on March 11, 2011. The anniversary reminded me of watching the news story unfold in the safety of our home in the United States.

My husband and I were engrossed in the TV as media images of waves that devoured cars, boats, homes and people were broadcast. And our children were playing in the room. The images were graphic, and my older daughter, then age six, was paying attention. She became visibly distraught by what she was seeing. I don't remember if we turned the TV off or if I took the girls into another room after that. But the damage was done, and she was disturbed and frightened by the disaster for two days.

It's no wonder. Experts say that the nightly news is one of the most violent and harmful programs that a young child can be exposed to. (See TV Violence, an article by Common Sense Media.) Children younger than seven - and even older, sensitive children - are vulnerable to feeling threatened or upset emotionally, and can "easily confuse facts with fantasies or fears."

While my husband and I were grappling with the TV issue at our house, Kim Lee, a Director of Children's Education for our Presbyterian church, was compiling some information to help families deal with the events. She has graciously allowed me to use her advice for this blog. Whatever your faith, I hope you will find this advice as valuable as I did. And when another disaster strikes, I hope you can draw on this advice to help your own family in the context of your own faith.
With all the news coverage about the disaster unfolding in Japan, our children may be inundated and overexposed to news coverage, pictures, and frightening conversation.  We, along with our children, are called to be Christ’s light in the world for our brothers and sisters in Japan.  It is important provide careful and thoughtful spaces to talk about and act out our concern and love for those who are suffering.  To that end, I have gathered some resources from the Presbyterian Resource Center in effort to help guide you as you journey along with your children through the horror and uncertainty that marks disasters. 
  • Be available for conversation with your children.
  • Provide a safe and quiet space for them to talk and express their concerns. Important faith values that are understood by children include the personal and protective love of God. Stories of Jesus’ love for others and His parables of care are especially helpful.
  • Allow children to offer their own prayers and reflections through art, song, story, and poem.
  • Older children can look for other Scripture stories and prayers that offer thoughts of God’s power and love.
  • Write and/or draw letters and prayers for children’s worship.
  • Light a special “healing” candle each evening for family devotions or meal times. Speak of the Light of Christ and how God’s love will never go away.
  • Limit exposure to TV and other media. This is especially important for younger children, for whom the devastation in the media can be particularly frightening. If you have an older school-age child, you may want to watch the news together and talk about what you're seeing.
  • Acknowledge your child's feelings. Reassure your child that what is happening is scary and confusing, and validate your child's many feelings.
  • Increase quiet time. Add quiet time for the family in the evenings or make reading and quiet time before bed longer.
Internet Resources
Thanks, Kim!

Note: Additional advice for parents can be found in the article Explaining the News to Our Kids.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Overheard: My Preschooler Chooses TV Over Sleep

Source: Common Sense Media

This week I volunteered an hour at the local elementary school. The computer teacher asked me to escort a girl from the classroom to the playground. On the way, I tried to make small talk with the eight year-old. "So, what are your favorite things to do?"

"I like to watch TV in my bedroom," came the reply. "And play video games. And sleep in my bed." That was all she had to offer.

OK, not really a big deal. Maybe she has other hobbies, but didn't feel like sharing.

A more interesting story came as I was leaving the school. Our school provides speech therapy for local preschool-aged kids, and the families wait on benches by the main doors to see the therapist. It's here that they talk to her about their child's progress before and after the session. On my way out, I passed by the therapist talking to a frustrated-looking grandmother. Her grandson, who was no more than four, was laying on a bench behind her, sucking his thumb, looking sleepy.

"He's just not sleeping," the grandmother complained. "When I go into his room at night, he's awake. The TV will be on. The lights will be on."

I wanted to, but I didn't stay and eavesdrop. So as I write this, I admit that I don't have the whole story, just this little statement from the grandmother and the vision of the tired boy. I don't know if this is an ongoing problem. But if taken at face value, this is a sad situation.

Why does the grandmother feel so helpless to do something about the boy's sleeping habits? Isn't it  as simple as removing the TV from the boy's bedroom? Sleep is vital for young kids, and I would argue that the boy's health is being compromised. The TV in his room is giving the boy too much freedom over his schedule, which is something that a responsible adult should manage out of love and concern for him.

All I can say is that I hope the therapist pointed this out when I was out of earshot.

I'm not anti-TV. I'm just for parental TV management. Almost half of our kids between ages five and eight have a TV in their bedroom, and I wonder how much TV time is truly managed by a responsible parent.

Talk to your child. Find out what is important to him. If it's the TV, then maybe it's time to introduce a new activity in his life. And listen to the conversations going on around you. You might be surprised what you hear.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Misleading Ads Banned in UK

Last week I wrote about the new law in Israel banning the employment of models that don't meet certain weight requirements. Part of the law also requires a disclaimer on advertisements that use digitally altered images of models.

Since that post, I learned of a law proposed in Arizona's House of Representatives that would require "advertisers to add a disclaimer on digitally altered photos. The proposed legislation is modeled after laws in Britain, where the Advertising Standards Authority monitors companies for egregious acts of Photoshopping. It also has the power to ban ads." (Source: a March 9, 2012 article from

Articles discussing Great Britain's actions against misleading ads can be found in Time Magazine and Recently the government banned an advertisement by Loreal featuring Rachel Weisz and one by Lancome featuring Julia Roberts. The complaint? The ads are unrealistic, misleading and exaggerate the performance of the beauty products.

The UK's Advertising Standards Authority has its work cut out for them, analyzing which advertisements have been significantly altered - and which have not. The group's work aims to protect the consumer, so we are all better informed about products before we buy. But there is a another benefit to these laws: making a statement against the unrealistic and oversexed portrayal of women in the media. Especially for the sake of our young girls - and boys - I hope the law in Arizona gets passed, and that other states take action, too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Movies: What to Know Before You Show

A friend of mine recently complained on Facebook: "Took my son to see [the movie] We Bought A Zoo. Wish I had known they'd use every four-letter word in the book."

I've been in that situation. I've relied on movie ratings and advertisements, or even "thumbs up" from my friends, to persuade me to let my kids watch a movie. But all too frequently I didn't have enough information before I turned the movie on.

There is a way to help parents understand what they are getting into - before they agree to show it. The people behind Common Sense Media have reviewed hundreds of movies (and games and apps too, by the way). The movie reviews include a summary, a recommended age minimum (Zoo's age is 12, my friend's son is 6), comments from other parents who have seen the movie, and rankings on these key issues:
  • Positive messages
  • Positive role models
  • Violence
  • Sex
  • Language
  • Consumerism
  • Drinking, drugs and smoking
If you agree to a movie and you are still uncertain about upcoming scenes, consider using the "fast forward" option when watching the movie at home. (My own children are especially sensitive to scary scenes, and we agree in advance that I can fast forward through scenes that are going to bother them.) And when those awkward or scary moments still come up, talk about what you just saw. It can be a wonderful teaching opportunity.

Common Sense Media's review system is a wonderful tool to help you as a parent avoid those awkward or regretful moments during a movie when you are saying to yourself, "I wish I had known that was coming!" Use the guide to consider your own "hot button" topics as a parent, and use intuition about what your child can handle. Don't be afraid to say "no" to a movie, or "Let's wait until you're a little older; let's pick something else to watch." It will make for a much more enjoyable family movie experience for everyone.

Note: Although I've signed up, an account to the Common Sense Media site is not required. Just close out the pop-up asking for registration.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Your Child and Facebook: Are You Ready?

What to do when your little one wants to join Facebook? According to author Sharon Cindrich, you embrace the idea happily. Cindrich writes in an article in Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine that allowing her daughter to join Facebook at age 13 (the minimum age to join) has "helped her blossom and develop in unexpected ways."

I became skeptical when reading the beginning of this article. I'm not sure it's realistic to attribute a child's blossoming, development and "deeper relationships" to Facebook. (But hey, maybe it can happen.) However, as I read further, I began to understand the author's point.

Parents may be anxious about their kids joining social networks, but Ms. Cindrich points out that social networking is here to stay, so a parent might as well accept it, be informed, and not fear it. She offers some tips. First, determine if your child is ready and responsible enough to socialize online. Agree to share the password to your child's account. Take an interest in his online activities, and use that as a platform to engage in conversation with him.
"Despite these technological advances, there is one thing that hasn’t changed when it comes to a child’s social development — the importance of parental presence and intuition. Your child needs coaching, guidance, and encouragement as she navigates her way through friendships and other relationships with peers, whether 
in person or online. The bottom line is parents need to be involved. That is what helps keep our children safe."
Parenting is ever important as kids become connected to their peers through new technologies. The author says it so well: "Before your child engages online, talk with him about what it means to be private, responsible and kind. Let him know that he should not say or do anything online that he wouldn't do either at school or at the dinner table."

Ms. Cindrich is the author of A Smart Girl's Guide to the Internet, and her website is Her site offers a helpful list of parental resources for information on online safety, Internet education, and homework help.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Why I Curbed Family TV Time

According to Common Sense Media's report, "Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America," 57% of parents often or sometimes "use media to keep their child occupied while they do chores."

I'll admit it. I've used the TV to babysit the kids, falling into the "often" category. When they were very young, in the Dora the Explorer stage, I turned the TV on so they would hold still while I got them ready for the day. As they grew up a little, I rearranged TV time so they watched every evening while I cooked dinner in peace. It was a routine that we were all comfortable with.

Then my older daughter, in elementary school for nearly seven hours a day, began frequently complaining that she didn't get enough time to play. My younger daughter began to have sleeping problems, waking frequently with nightmares that almost always involved the cartoon characters she had been watching.

I didn't want to nix TV time completely, and frankly, I doubt my husband would have supported that. So I decided that TV time would be reserved for weekends. I thought it would be a hard fought battle with my kids. Surprisingly, it wasn't.

I explained to them that I was going to change things so that they had more time to play during the day and were able to sleep better at night. I let them finish out the week with the current routine. They have rarely asked to watch TV during the week ever since.

Since the big change, my kids are undoubtedly happier, and yes, they do sleep much better. (And sure, it helps that they are older now and can entertain themselves better than the preschool days.) Do my kids get bored during the week? Sometimes. But a little boredom often forces them to come up with something creative to do.

I don't expect that turning the TV off will do miracles for everyone, but it has certainly been a big help to my family.  Perhaps it will help yours, too.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bold Move in Israel: Weight Requirements for Models

AP Photo: Oded Balilty

As a follow up to the information I shared yesterday about organizations that strive to promote a healthier - and more realistic - image of women in the media, I stumbled across this story by the Associated Press in the Charlotte Observer yesterday. According to the article, Israel just passed a law that prohibits employing underweight models. In order to work, the model must present a recent medical report that she (or he) is not malnourished or underweight, according to World Health Organization standards, which includes the Body Mass Index (BMI) as one standard.

Sponsors of the law say that "it could become an example for other countries grappling with the spread of the life-threatening disorders." In Israel, approximately two percent of girls ages 14 to 18 have a "severe eating disorder, a rate similar to other developed countries."

A surprising twist to the law is that advertisers must post a "clearly written notice" on the ad if any digital enhancement is used to create the image. Think the warning boxes on a magazine cigarette ad.
"The law's supporters hope it will encourage the use of healthy models in local advertising and heighten awareness of digital tricks that transform already skinny women into seeming waifs.
"We want to break the illusion that the model we see is real," said Liad Gil-Har, assistant to law sponsor Dr. Rachel Adato, who compared the battle against eating disorders to the struggle against smoking.
I'm impressed with the new law. It is a bold move and one that is certain to take some criticism, but it makes a statement supporting the realistic portrayal of women in the media - for the health of kids and families. Unfortunately, I don't see that such a law would have a chance in the U.S., as some powerful and wealthy groups may argue that it is an attack against individual rights. The idea demonstrates, however, that change can happen. I hope that through organized movements like Miss Representation, Common Sense Media and the HealthyMEdia Commission, positive changes can and will happen in this country too, if we are all persistent enough.

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