Sex and violence hypocrisy – Supreme Court allows Violent Video Games for kids

The Supreme Court finally came to a decision about the sale of violent video games to children and despite the hundreds and hundreds of studies linking violence on TV and in video games to aggressive behavior, they decided that “governments don’t have the right to restrict the ideas that children are exposed to.” OK, in theory that makes sense. BUT… we restrict children from depictions of sexual content, we currently prosecute for sexting, we don’t let children buy Playboy or porn videos, what’s the difference? It certainly hasn’t made a difference in our teenage pregnancy rate, the United States has THE HIGHEST teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world.  Compared to France, a country that is high on tolerance of exhibiting sexual images to children, our rate of unplanned teenage pregnancy age 15-19 is 52.1% while their rate is 9.3% (Unicef, 2001)!!

Meanwhile, we are a country that is fiercely protective of gun owners, that tolerates a high level of violence in all of our media and sensationalizes crime in news.  European countries keep a tight control on guns and more strictly limit the kind of programming on national television have a much lower per capita crime rate.

Does anyone else think there might be something wrong with this picture?

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Sexting: Should teenagers be expelled?

Phones are being used by teens for sexual exploration via the exchange of sexually suggestive content (sexting).  Sexting includes explicit text, and nude or semi-nude personal pictures or videos captured on a cell phone or digital camera and sent via personal texts, emails, and instant messages. (Uhls et al, 2011).   Pew research in 2009 found that 4% of adolescents report sending sexts while 15% report receiving them.  The report also found that there was no difference in the amount of sexts sent or received even when parents checked their children’s cell phones.  Thus, kids seem to do it, even if they know their parents may see the photos!

Yet even adults, elected officials such as Anthony Weiner, have made these kind of boneheaded moves.  And so far, he is claiming that he won’t resign.  In this environment where everyone has access to this tool and thus bad (or stupid) behavior is easily documented and passed on to many others, should youth be punished?

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Technology Does Change the Brain…Duh!

Almost every day I read some article about how digital media is changing the brain of our children, usually with a negative connotation. Often these articles refer to “studies” that describe what new digital technologies are doing to our children’s brain. No less than the executive editor of the NY Times weighed in, referring to plenty of credible digital Cassandras who have explored what media is doing to our brain.  And it is true, the likelihood is high that digital media are changing the brains of everyone who uses them, as the ONLY scientific study, by Gary Small and his colleagues, looking at the brain while participants used media showed. However, given the expense of completing a true study using brain scanners, the sample size was very small, and moreover the participants were all over 50. So we are still in VERY EARLY stages in understanding how this all affects children who use this technology from very early ages.

But one very important thing to realize is that OUR BRAINS ARE CHANGING ALL OF THE TIME. Way back in the first half of the 20th century, a scientist named Hebb developed what is now known as the Hebbian principle — “Cells that fire together, wire together.” This basically means that when synapses fire between different neurons over and over again, they form stronger and more persistent connections. These connections are the ones that last, while those that don’t continue to fire together, tend to be pruned away. More recently, science has shown that the brain constantly learns and creates new connections, a process called plasticity. The brain continues to do this throughout adulthood, so EVERY new experience changes the brain. Interestingly enough, the Gary Small study was demonstrating this concept, that the brain changes even over 50!

If you think about it, technology has been changing our brains for a very long time. Consider the definition of technology: Technology is the making, usage and knowledge of tools, techniques, crafts, systems or methods of organization in order to solve a problem or serve some purpose (Wikipedia, 2011). So if you want to read about one of the very first technologies from millions of years ago, see my other post: Technology the New Pointed Stick?

It is true that digital technology is growing rapidly and perhaps the brain is adapting and changing much more quickly than it did when technology changed more slowly. But the bottom line is the brain changes all the time. It’s not some entirely new idea that technology is rewiring us, it’s been doing that for a very, very long time.

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My Kids Don’t Watch TV (and I’m really not judging you!)

This is guest post from Abi Cotler-O’Roarty, a wonderful writer who has just published a piece in a “TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood”. She also writes for the Huffington Post and is a frequent contributor to Patch.com in California.  She is also a parent who has decided to not allow media for now in her home.  And she finds time to write!

Thanks for inviting me to write about media in our home, Yalda. My one and four and a half-year-old are basically media-free right now. They don’t watch any TV or movies and have only seen a handful of two to three minute YouTube clips in their lives. Well, okay, Ginger, the eldest, has just recently seen a Pooh-bear movie and the movie, Babies (a great first film), while sick. But other than that, you catch my drift.

I hesitate to write about this because when I even tell just one other parent we don’t do media, I see the walls that can instantly go up. Am I judging them? Am I trying to convert? I truly am not. Sometimes I think I am just one stomach virus away from Nickelodeon, myself. “They just don’t watch yet,” I always tell them, and it’s true. Some day we will journey into things like “The Sound of Music,” and the Discovery Channel. But even if we waited until Ginger was seven, or nine, she’d still have a long life ahead of her of keyboards and DVDs, no doubt.

And my husband and I are not exactly media pure. In fact we live and die by a DVR recorder to get a little HBO or news at the end of most every day. But we are tired souls and that often amounts to about ten hours a week. The  national average for adults is about 38. We both decided not to show Ginger media when she was a baby because of the  studies which led the American Association of Pediatrics to recommend zero TV for kids under two. One compelling study about attention deficit showing up at aged seven included children under aged three, so we just kept on going when she turned two.

Plus, when Ginger turned two, we were on a trip to Bali and her attention span for the elaborate dance performances, a part of everyday life there, was incredible. The look on her little face was the same one I’ve seen on kids watching a Disney movie–entranced. Plus, we reasoned, so far I’d found ways to cook dinner, make phonecalls and all those other things one needs TV for and we just loved what she was building, making, playing, doing when not watching. So we kept it up and that’s how we got here today, almost five years after making that first decision to hold off.

Here are some of the things we love about our no-media policy, with a huge disclaimer that you can never be sure what’s nature over nurture:

•our elder daughter’s insane imagination

•what she does make and do while I’m busy, sometimes that means helping me with chores (it’s amazing what little hands can do)

•the innocence of her brain, her total lack of sophistication, she has no idea about things like war, sarcasm or commercials

•the malleability of her brain, a rock can still be so many things for her

•her attention-span for stories, books, even car rides

•her initiative about playing on her own, a lack of need to be entertained

Contributing to our beliefs about protecting the slow innocence of childhood are the Waldorf principles of Ginger’s school. They ask that parents don’t show any media at home to the young ones and if they must, please not on a school night. Teachers say the increase in hyperactivity is that obvious for some kids.

I can see what they mean, only because the little that my daughter has seen is SO stimulating and there’s no time to ask any of the questions she constantly asks when reading or exploring her world for real. So with very little allowance for processing or reacting, it’s just take in, take in, take in and then, I wonder, when will it come back out? This is especially true today with ever increasingly fast edits and camera moves, even in truly educational TV. They say it would take 92 hours of Mister Rogers to equal one hour of Sponge Bob Square Pants, in this regard.

But I think we are on the rare side even at a Waldorf school, in that most kids watch at least something here and there, many on a weekly basis. And I do want my children to be of this world and learn how to balance all its goods and ills. Sometimes I worry about how and when we will start to introduce more media, in some ways it has become a kryptonite to me. But, like drugs or sugar, I don’t need them to figure out the balance right away. When they’re building a circus with blocks on the floor, helping me cook and clean, making up endless new lyrics to songs on the couch, or running around the backyard, I feel like we could wait forever before we go down that Technicolor road.

…when there are booming questions being fired at me during a phone call to the bank, of course, it’s another story. So, you know, stay tuned.

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