Saturday, September 24, 2011

One-Sided Parental Vigilance

Does anyone else sense an inconsistency in the “repsonsible parenting world” in the emphasis on proper food monitoring for children versus the lack of emphasis on filtering children’s entertainment?

Parents are increasingly conscientious about what their children physically consume- that it be  organic, hormone- free, nutrient -rich, low in sugar, low in sodium, unprocessed, etc.   But discussions with any sort of analogous standards for entertainment are conspicuously missing. 

Take parenting magazines or parenting blogs, for example. Articles on how to achieve these kinds of goals for a child’s physical body outnumber articles about discretion in entertainment by a significant margin.

Why is this the case?  The entertainment industry is no less exploitative of children for the sake of their own bottom line.  I’m convinced that they are every bit as indifferent to a child’s true well-being as the fast food industries are, for example.

And it’s not as if it mattered less.  Certainly, the effects of entertainment on a child’s inner person strike more centrally at his or her humanity, and I would argue- are more difficult to reverse than the physical issues.

Sometimes I’ve wondered if part of the problem is simple exhaustion.  A parent can only be hyper vigilant about so much.  The amount of time required to keep up with the latest research, track down the healthiest foods, and the energy it takes to enforce good eating standards on resistant children can leave a mom feeling a bit pooped. 

As politically incorrect as this may be, I’d like to suggest that parents who find themselves in this boat give themselves permission to relax a little in the food department.  Some parents certainly manage to achieve vigilance in both areas (and personally, I am full of admiration) but as a general rule, it seems to me that the entertainment side of things often suffers.  In particular, I would really like to see more discussion of:

  • the effect of stock, commercial characters on imaginative play
  •  the subtle ways that media and toys can undermine the values a family hopes to instill
  •  addiction to sensationalism in children’s media
  •  the pressure that children can feel from the media to grow up quickly
  • the ironic uniformity of taste that commercial media breeds in children (while often simultaneously touting non-conformity as a high value)

Why do you think talk about eliminating unhealthy entertainment is not a bigger part of the discussion on responsible parenting?  What in regard to children’s entertainment would you like to see discussed more often?


Stephanie said...

I whole heartedly agree with you! We have seven children and we feel that our childrens' spirituality matters more than the physical body. But, I know we fail in monitoring the entertainment they watch although we feel we are pretty conservative about. There's always room for improvement.

Annette said...

thoughtful post--thank you

Mandy Figueroa said...

I'm wondering if perhaps the two possibly go hand-in-hand somewhat.  Without the powerful effect of suggestion by the media that is targeted toward children, would we have such problems with inactivity and unhealthy eating? 

Sue Walker said...

I so much agree!  

Emily Muller said...

Preach it!  I totally agree...

Karen @ Candiddiversions said...

Brilliant post! I'm going to have to think about this a bit more. Another facet: I think a lot of parents who care about parenting are running themselves ragged because they think they have to have their children in every possible "enrichment" activity. Then, when they finally crash, a DVD or tv show seems like the best way to keep the kids still for a little while.

Having Fun at Home said...

Another reason to focus on the entertainment issue first :-)

Having Fun at Home said...

I agree- my best intentions fall by the wayside when I'm burned out.  Really raises the question of whether what caused the burn out was worth it in the first place!

dragonflyadore said...

I agree with this post completely. We've always tried to limit and monitor our son's entertainment (admittedly sometimes better than others) and it's really not the popular idea with the people I know and interact with. I found that I had gotten into the habit of letting my son watch during breakfast and lunch for the day. I thought, "well it's not dinner, it's just the two of us, and I can eat and surf the internet and he can eat and watch his tv for the day." I've since reclaimed our meal times and if we are going to be entertained during a meal, it is now from reading a children's novel. 
I know you didn't state that you were officially and completely "unplugged" and really neither are we.  But I thought you might like the book "Unplugged Play" by Bobbi Connor. It's a large book of various "unplugged" activites. It's got a lot of fun activities for a wide range of ages.
Thank you for sharing this post! I'm your newest follower. I have yet to figure out which way to log in to see my name/url, so my apologies for the email address name.


Daniel Kligerman said...

Great post. I think what this boils down to is time, and the willingness of parents to spend time actively engaged with their kids. Improving the nutrition of the food kids eat might take some additional time for things like cooking, but this seems different than the type of change a parent needs to make to reduce kids' use of things like TV, computers and video games. A child watching TV allows a parent the freedom to spend their time as they'd like; replacing that TV watching with something "better" usually eliminates that freedom.

For me, I think there has to be a balance between exposure to commercial entertainment (allowing the parents time for other things), and better ways to use this time. Also, I think that parents who even think about this, and strive to strike some kind of balance, are doing well.

Having Fun at Home said...

Thanks, Joyce.  I'd like to start doing more reading aloud around lunch time too.  I remember that being a nice, calming after-lunch ritual when I was in elementary school.  
We're not completely unplugged I guess because we still do have a TV that's hooked up to a DVD player.  I've really been glad though that we made the decision not to receive any channels on our tv.  When we're tired sometimes the temptation of flipping on the tv is hard to resist. Being limited to DVDs forces us to be slightly more intentional (plus we have a lot more control over the content!)

Having Fun at Home said...

That's a very interesting point about the difference between the kinds of time and energy required by the food vs entertainment spheres.  I think it's something I want to mull over more.  

Limiting entertainment definitely requires increasing one's direct engagement with a child.  I would add that monitoring entertainment does as well.  A parent who is careful about upholding media standards will often spend time actively engaged with their child during entertainment, talking with the child, and skipping over parts of a a program that they know are not healthy for the child.  

Becca said...

I do know some parents who are hyper-vigilant about food but let their kids watch constant TV!  But I think it's strange you chose to illustrate this article with a spread of Mothering magazines--esp. since the top headline on the top one is about an ideal alternative to unmonitored TV-watching--because I used to spend a lot of time on the discussion boards, and I saw many many discussions of what kids should and shouldn't watch, hear, or read and how peers or extended family were exposing kids to inappropriate I do think there is some concern out there about this issue.

We were determined not to let our child watch TV at all before 2 years old and then to limit it to an average of <2 hours/day as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.  We succeeded, but I can't tell you how many people told me it was IMPOSSIBLE.  Please.  I've even been told by several at-home mothers that "there just isn't time" to read to children every day!  I was employed part-time until he was 4, full-time since, but I or his dad have always found time for a bedtime story, and when he was in preschool we commuted together by public transit and I read to him on the bus and at bus stops, an hour or more every day.  It's really more about priorities.

We have seen the consequences of watching inappropriate television, so we feel vigilance is justified.  But we do allow our son (now 6) to watch some adult programs like documentaries and political debates WITH us so we can discuss our beliefs and values.  My parents did this with me, and it helped very much to develop my understanding.