Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Media problem, part I

The days of Frogger and Peter, Paul, and Mary have past.  We live in the time of Grand Theft Auto and Lady Gaga.  Are you really sure what your kids are doing?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that total screen time for children per day not exceed 2 hours - and that less is just fine.  That means less than 2 hrs of web surfing, gaming of any kid, TV, movies, texting, whatever.  Our kids don't really see the point; after all, everyone's doing it (which is, of course, a familiar line of reasoning behind lots of things kids shouldn't be doing, including smoking pot).  What is the point?

Well, it probably starts like it does with many of us.  You're at home, you have a baby, maybe 14 months old, and you're trying to get "something" done.  Baby Huey doesn't appreciate your divided attention, and protests you stick him in front of a "Baby Einstein" video (which, by the way, does NOT in fact make your child any smarter than he was picking his nose...but that's another post entirely).

After a while, Huey doesn't like Baby Einstein anymore, so "educational TV," then Sprout/Noggin/Nick Jr...iCarly...Hannah Montana...Spongebob Potatopants...and then who knows what.  Eventually Huey has a playdate with a friend who has Leapfrog.  Huey can't get enough of that, and the Leapfrog eventually morphs into a Nintendo DS, an XBox360, a World of Warcraft or Starcraft II account, and hours upon hours of homework not done and class A attitude problem.

If the time spent gaming or watching TV doesn't warp your kids, the material very well might.  Grand Theft Auto has scenes where sex with a prostitute is highly suggested, and its cousin Manhunt 2 allows you to slit throats with glass and beat heads in with toilet seats.  A vile game called VTech Rampage allows someone to re-enact the multiple murders from the tragic Virginia Tech  scene in 2007.  In World of Warcraft, complete strangers can strip down to their underwear and rub their "toon" against yours, all while make lewd comments and gestures.  Even Facebook games like Mafia Wars are questionable; in MW, you regularly kill and rob others to get ahead in the game, and possess the ability to harass other players day in and day out.  Further, because it's a Facebook game, MW allows bullies access (potentially) to a victim's facebook page for some real life harassing.

Mind you, I have had innumerable conversations with families about this issue, so I have heard every response.  For the most part, people are surprised by my description of media, think that it wasn't a problem for them, so why should it be a problem for their kids, or just plain don't want to deal with the hassle of having the discussion.  These discussions remind me of some families' answers to smoking pot.  "I did it, I'm fine, so is he."

For both media and smoking pot, that might even be true.  Lots of people play video games or watch TV and are just fine.  Then again, the TV-watching/video game kid might play/text/watch for a good part of the day, tank school, and develop a serious behavioral issue that makes the idea of separate schooling attractive, just like the recreational pot smoker either decides that he doesn't give a crap about school, or goes on to experiment with coke, heroin, or even everyone's favorite cooking fuel, propane.

We all impose limits on our kids, from bedtimes to mealtime behaviors to amount of treats in a week.  Electronic media is no different.  Eating until you're completely stuffed, day in and day out, leads to being overweight, and there's an electronic media equivalent.  Knowing what the game or show is before you allow it, and then discussing how much is ok, is the best way to protect your children.