Friday, April 6, 2012

Protect Kids but Skip Fear Factor

Personal story: When I was somewhere between the ages of eight and 10, a traveling preacher came to our little town church for a "special service." He asked the kids to sit in the front row so we could see and hear him better. (It may be an exaggeration to say there were 10 of us.)

He had a record player and a slide projector. The slides exhibited record album covers and images of heavy metal rock stars eating bats and looking like the Devil himself. (Think Ozzy Osbourne's Speak of the Devil). He played samples of music from the records backwards, interpreting the mumbling, fuzzy noises as evil words. There were hidden satanic messages behind the Eagle's Hotel California and Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven. The Beatles were devil worshipers because they bragged that they were more popular than Jesus, and the acronym for the band KISS stood for "Knights in Satan's Service."

Growing up in the country, with virtually no radio signal available, this was all brand new to me. I had never heard of these bands (yes, even the Beatles). But now they were burned forever in my memory. I was at an impressionable age, accepting everything that an authority figure said, and I most likely still believed in the magic of Santa.

These sacrilegious messages, said the preacher, were luring children and teens to become devil worshipers on a fast trip to hell. Although he meant well, I believe the preacher was convinced in the power of the underworld and was scared himself. At his urging, I avoided "secular" music, and did so even until I was in my late teens. I even became afraid when our junior high band teacher played offensive music during a class party - so afraid that I hid in the bathroom for several minutes. And forget about having fun at school dances.

Now that so much time has gone by, I find this story both humorous and poignant. And I use it to make a point.

Parents, educators and community leaders have long worried about media and its effects on kids. And most certainly there are media messages that are influential and troubling, but I know now that most of these messages are ploys to shock over-saturated audiences into paying attention.

There are better ways to protect children than using scare tactics. Technology and media messages are here to stay, and no one can shelter a child completely. Media management is priority. Open and honest communication between parent and child is also essential, as is modeling responsible digital behaviors.

And having a sense of confidence as a parent is key. Learn how to manage the media in your household according to your own values, your children's developmental ages and their ability to handle certain messages and online responsibilities. The technology that we use and the media that we see in our daily lives can be a platform for teaching some valuable and long-lasting lessons. And as long as our training is done with consistency, love and a level-head, it doesn't have to frighten anyone.

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