Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to some primary and secondary school students who are attending a Fiji Media Watch workshop on “Children Media and Consumption”.
I began by announcing that I was a child. Well, a child of the media. My earliest memories were of watching a James Bond film (it was the Roger Moore “Bond”), and The Omen and listening to the “Broadcast to Schools” programme on Radio Fiji. I inherited a wonderful library of books from my older sisters and grew up reading the Bible, Greek mythology, Dickens, Daniel Dafoe, and James Fennimore Cooper, as well as the Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, Famous Five and Biggles series and, whenever I was fortunate to visit a home which had a collection, The Phantom, Commando, Archie and Christian comics distributed by the Scripture Union. I had a collection of the Clitheroe Kid radio comedy on cassette which I recorded every Saturday at 11am from Radio Fiji Three (sorry for the early audio piracy) and fell off to sleep listening to.
My first foray into the field of broadcasting was, unfortunately for my dear departed Dad, at the age of one or two, when I attempted to emulate his technical expertise and ended up cutting the wires of the family record player. It was to be almost sixteen years later when my mother’s favourite swing jazz and brass bands, along with Itsy Witsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka dot Bikini were to be heard.
I embraced the opportunity to look through the looking glass, or windows to the world that video offered , first on Betamax then VHS. For my 10th birthday, I invited friends from school and church over and we rushed through the mandatory “pass the parcel” and other party games so that we could get to watching Return of the Jedi and Superman 3 (with Richard Pryor!) and there were ont one but two James Bond films that year. Radio was still king for me though, and I even sewed a special holster to help me smuggle my pocket transistor radio and crystal earpiece to school.
Yet while I was child of the media, I was fortunate to have parents who were media savvy. My father and I would discuss the movies and television series we watched and the moral or life lesson to be learned. My introduction to the world of prostitution came from a discussion about the child prostitute played by Jodie Foster in the classic Scorsese/-De Niro film, Taxi Driver. We watched documentaries and discussed what was in the news. The media was a window on the world.
My children are children of the media also, but as the children of a child of the media they are more like grandchildren of the media or perhaps children of the new media.
It is an important recognition because children are leading the world's transition to digital media. This is in part because children aren't afraid of technology. In my home they are always teaching their grandmother about how to use the laptop or tablet she has received, which includes demonstrations and results in them spending a lot longer on the said machine. It is also suggested that it is because children haven't spent years getting use to anything else. To get a sense of the direction of the world's media habits, just watch what children are doing.
A 2010 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation about the media habits of 8-18 year olds found that children are not just consuming a large amount of media, they are increasingly consuming multiple forms of media at the same time. While their consumption of print media is decreasing rapidly, their digital media consumption is skyrocketing.. While this survey was undertaken in the United States of America, this maybe the not too distant future for Fiji.
The Kaiser report points out that there's a huge jump in media in the 11- to 14-year-old age group who receive between 8 to 12 hours of media exposure. Children this age are beginning to become emotionally independent from their parents, and they look to their peers for what's socially acceptable. Media acts as a super peer -- thus, tweens (as my nearly 10-year old son now refers to himself) and early teens aren't simply enjoying mindless entertainment, they're absorbing messages about life that may not be the ones you, as parents, want them to hear.
One of the study's most sobering findings was that children who spent more time with media reported lower grades and lower levels of personal contentment. Children who reported the heaviest media use also reported that they were more likely to get into trouble frequently and that they were often sadder or more bored than those who were less immersed in media. How does this match your children?
As parents we must realize that all this media profoundly impacts children's emotional, social, and physical development and that parenting must extend to the media and technology worlds. It is critical that we teach our children to understand the messages they get from popular entertainment and to use the technology at their fingertips in responsible and productive ways. According to the study, children whose parents make an effort to curb media use -- either through setting up time limits or by limiting access itself have children who are less media saturated.
As parents we need to remember that the mobile phone, tablet, laptop, PC, TV, and DVD are not toys or pacifiers with which to distract, reward or occupy our children’s time while we do other things. The digital media is a double-edged sword. We need to teach our children how to wield it for the greater good. The alternative is that they will hurt someone or themselves.
"Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity"