Parents have new job: Protect their children from the media

by Jim Boyle


The Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies the amount of media children consume on a daily basis, reports children are taking in an increasing amount of media and they have few rules to limit how much they take.

This disturbs Katy Smith, a well-known early childhood educator, who addressed an Elk River audience this past month.

“The world (protected me from the media) on my behalf as a child,” Smith stated at the Handke Family Center Jan. 26. “There wasn’t R-rated stuff on television when I was a kid.

“Two generations later, you can assume the media is not out there to protect your kids. It’s not. I know you have a lot of battles to fight, but this is a worthy one.”

Smith is a fan of studies done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found dramatic  increases in media consumption between 2004 and 2009.

The KFF found in 2009 that children 8 years of age (kids in second and third grade) were spending an average of about seven hours and 38 minutes a day with media.

And this is before the advent of the iPad, Smith notes.

As for high schoolers, they were averaging 10 hours and 45 minutes between television, video games,  iPods, texting and using their cell phone. In order to arrive at an accurate picture, surveyors had to re-configure the study because teens don’t take in just one medium at a time.

“I don’t know but I have a sense that’s one of the reasons they’re so disorganized,” Smith said. “They’re taking in a lot of information.”

Smith says other numbers she finds startling include the fact that:

•most six-month-olds have a television viewing schedule.

•Seven out of 10 kindergarten students have a television in their room.

And when the television is left on all night, part of their brain is assigned to that information, she said.

“At 4 years old they will choose to watch Dora, but at 14 I am pretty sure it’s not going to be Dora,”  Smith said. “I can give you study after study. Kids with a television in their room do not do as well in school.”

Smith suggested detoxifying children from television, especially before school starts. And even more important than that, she said, parents need to protect them from seeing violent images.

The advertisements for “CSI” that show four people getting killed in between football games on Sundays concern Smith.  Kids don’t process violence the same way adults do, she said. Everything they see is real until they are 7 years old, she adds

“I was teaching when 9-11 happened, and the kids would ask me why do planes keep crashing into buildings,” Smith said.

And now with Newtown, Conn.

“The last thing a child needs to hear before they go to school is “school-shooting-kindergarten-six,” she said. “The 24-hour news cycle has children hearing words like homicide and suicide at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”

Smith encourages parents to embrace a low-tech existence for the first seven years of their kids’ lives.

As for video games.

“M is not for mature,” she said, noting parents who consider their children more mature than most. “It’s R.”

As for apps?

“They’re not even rated yet,” she said.