I’m still digesting the conversation that filled the art lab this past Tuesday night during Daniel Bergin’s talk on Parents, Kids, and the Media.
Dan’s a TV producer at Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), media educator, independent filmmaker, father of two, and all-around nice guy known for making award-winning films like North Star: Minnesota’s Black Pioneers, Cass Gilbert: Standing the Test of Time, and Zero Street. In the past 15 years he’s helped start a media literacy program for youth called Don’t Believe the Hype and has been a maker of media since the age of 9 when he first experimented with Super 8 film (sadly we didn’t get to see his early karate movies).
Dan grew up watching Sesame Street–part of the original group of young people raised on educational TV–and was aware of the hopeful and creative aspects of media, a few favorites were The Electric Company and The Red Balloon. But, he also saw early on the media’s power of propaganda and its representation/misrepresentation of African-Americans in Hollywood and TV. D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation may be the most startling racist and oft-studied example, but who knew that early Bugs Bunny wore black face to sell war bonds? Much of Dan’s non-fiction work responds to the more serious side of the media, telling stories that reveal the disparities between race, class, and place, continually striving to get the back-story of the folks he’s depicting on camera.
After Dan’s introduction about his own work and relationship to the media, his PowerPoint turned to photos of his daughters, and he began sharing stories and concerns about the media’s impact on his kids’ lives. Even though Dan’s girls are both under the age of five, I was surprised (I admit I’m a non-parent) to learn how early on parents are forced to face the media’s impact on their families, especially the marketing of media to kids. A wonderfully engaged parent audience raised a lot of great questions throughout the evening:
- Do you block or monitor what your kids watch on TV?
- If your child is going to friend’s house, do you worry about what they might be exposed to on TV? How do you handle the situation?
- How do parents deal with the continual advertisement/marketing of media that’s directed at kids…you can’t even go to the library without finding a book with a popular TV cartoon character?
- How do parents react when they see kids behaving according to the often negative racial or gender stereotypes portrayed on TV?
Other comments and suggestions:
- For many single parent families or families with working parents it’s not as easy to monitor kids TV watching behavior. Sometimes TV is the only way to preoccupy kids while trying to get dinner ready.
- The media is a really great outlet for my kids’ creativity. They can re-enact every scene from Star Wars, and can turn just about anything around the house into a light saber. I wish there were more opportunities for my 11-year-old to learn about video-making.
- If my kids want to watch a program or movie based on a book, they have to read the book first before they can watch the film.
- It’s really important to be an advocate for your child. If you have rules about what your child can or can’t watch on TV or the Internet, then be sure to ask the parents of your child’s friend that they respect your rules when your child is spending time at their house.
- When going to the Sesame Street ice capades or a similar event, take the toys you already own, and kids won’t feel the need for new stuff.
- Try to strike a balance when checking out books from the library. For every Blue’s Clues book your child wants make sure to get a book that doesn’t involve TV characters. (Although Blue’s Clues’ books may not be the best children’s literature, it’s still getting your kid to read.)
- Check out websites for Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood and Parents for Ethical Marketing, two organizations that try to fight the powers of corporate marketing to kids.
- No pressure birthday parties eliminate the focus of presents and place the emphasis on having fun.
- Look at bad advertising as a point of entry for a discussion with your kids. Ask them questions that help deconstruct marketing tactics, like why do they only play this particular commercial on Saturday mornings?
- Demonstrate to kids that you hate commercials and they’ll get the idea too!
What are your thoughts?