School has started in many places and with it is a new campaign to stop bullying. As usual, there is an educational component and some sort of pledge to sign. While I applaud any efforts to change something for the better, the solution may be simpler than we think. Drastically limit or eliminate screen time for children and teens. Sounds simplistic and a little extreme? Keep reading.
The other week my teenage daughter came home horrified. She had watched in shock as a parent gave a child about a year old an iPhone to play with for an extended period of time. She has regaled me with stories from her acquaintances of parents encouraging their children to watch multiple hours (6-8+) of television during the day or children watching totally inappropriate media at very young ages. I thought television viewing was bad in my day, but between television, video games and other “screens” the average child spends most of their waking, non-school hours looking at some sort of screen.
As an educator, I am well aware of the negative impact too much screen time can have on developing minds and bodies. I knew the brain research was ominous about the impact of playing violent video games and watching violent movies on young developing brains. What I hadn’t seen yet was a book that put all of the information in one place.
I was intrigued when I was offered a chance to review Stop Teaching Our Kids To Kill, Revised and Updated Edition: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie & Video Game Violence by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano. After examining it, I really believe every parent needs to read this book. What I thought I knew about media and kids was only the tip of the iceberg.
Most of the books I review have a Christian focus. This book is absolutely secular, but in some ways, I think it only adds to the impact of what the authors share. I have seen too many Christians allow and even encourage their children to watch violent movies. I have watched youth ministry personnel pop violent video games in for teens to play during youth events. In spite of the fact that gratuitous violence goes against everything God stands for, Christians seem unfazed by the exposure their children are getting.
From secular research and a purely secular, public safety and well being mind set, the authors do an amazing job of explaining how these television shows, movies and games are destroying our youth and in turn our society. They quote decades of studies (many of them longitudinal), detailing how these games and shows even change the ways our children’s brains function.
As a Christian, perhaps the scariest thing the authors said was that constant exposure to violent images (note: violence includes inflicting any sort of pain on another) creates a child in whom empathy is destroyed. Wow! In a way, much of Christianity is based on the concept of empathy. If allowing your child too much screen time undermines all of your efforts to develop empathy in your child, is it worth the break it gives you from having to entertain him or make him behave?
On the other hand, perhaps the scariest information in the book is that 3 million young people in this country are addicted to video games. Even scarier is that the definition of addiction is that the behavior is having a major negative effect on one or more areas of the child or teen’s life. This means 3 million young people are having severely damaged relationships, deplorable academic work and more – all because of too much screen time. (Not to mention the terrifying increase in mass killings and violent/ aggressive behaviors.)
I could go on forever about all of the important information in this book. I have a habit of putting tabs in books to mark places with quotes and information I may want to use later. This book has more tabs than I have ever put in a book. From finding out the correlation between violent media and aggressive behavior is stronger than the correlations between secondhand smoke and lung cancer or lead ingestion and lowered IQ to the realization that misbehavior is often the result of children sitting too long in front of media rather than running off their energy in appropriate ways like play, this book is full of things to ponder.
Perhaps the most interesting was the idea that the sharp rise in bullying correlates with the increased screen times children and teens are experiencing. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. All of the popular teen shows involve bullying and frankly (from the commercials) quite a bit of murder. Not only do the authors point out the desensitization media creates for aggressive bullying behaviors, but also the identification and modeling these shows, movies and video games provide for inappropriate, ungodly behaviors. (Okay, ungodly was my word, but it is definitely implied.)
If you like scary movies, you will love this book. Frankly, reading it scared me more than anything I have read or seen in a very long time. There is hope though. If parents and Christians are willing to take back some responsibility and become advocates, we can reverse the damage to our children and society. In fact, the last large section of the book gives suggestions for how to get involved, organizations to support and alternative ideas of positive media to provide to your children in limited amounts.
Run, don’t walk and purchase this book. Read it and examine the media habits in your home. You may just find turning off all of the screens improves your child’s behavior, attitudes and possibly all of the relationships in your home. The authors even make a case for increased creativity and productivity in children, teens and adults with reduced or non-existent screen times. Try it and let me know what happens. In the meantime, I think I will take a walk and go read another book!
P.S. Here is a great website (created by Stanford University) the authors suggested for activity ideas and help for families attempting to control their media usage.
This book was given to me free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I will definitely keep this book and use it to help educate other parents about children and media.