for release Friday April 8, 2005
by Melodie Davis
How Families Deal with Media Issues in 2005
I have done seminars and workshops on families and media use for years, starting way back before I had children myself, as a Television Awareness Training instructor.
Sometimes I think how simple things were in those days (late 1970’s), even though there were plenty of issues to discuss even then. This was before the beginning of MTV, the Internet, and CNN. Atari was founded only in 1972 and started with a video form of Ping Pong called “Pong.” These were the days when, if you thought about computers in homes, your reaction was likely to be, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” (Ken Olsen, president and founder of Digital Equipment Company is infamous for saying this in 1977.)
It’s a long way from “Pong” or “Pac Man” to the game “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” or the popular and addicting “Halo 2,” where players “shoot” other very life-like computer players all around the world, with an animated/video gun in their hands. It’s a long way to Sims 2, another addicting “relationship” game that girls seem to love, where the “Sim” persons you create and who talk a funny gibberish to each other, grow up (including bedroom scenes) and get old rather than being in a perpetual state of youth as in earlier simulation games.
MTV eventually gave birth to “Real World,” usually considered the first “reality” TV show about 17 years ago. In general, MTV, with its music videos which are frequently little more than soft porn, has driven the edge of acceptability further and further out there, at least for people who worry about “anything goes” morality.
What to do? Some families do manage to just say no, having no TV in their home (or only getting one out for special occasions or viewing. This is not a course of action we chose.) Some only use videos and DVDs that they can choose and monitor. But of course not having TV is only one hurdle. Now there is the Internet or computer to monitor, the above mentioned games kids might play at neighbors’ or friends’ homes, music and movies to screen, and the whole culture that surrounds us with T-shirts, billboards, subway advertising, bands, magazines, and more.
Since it seems impossible to remove ourselves totally from the surrounding culture (unless you move to a commune or religious community), it seems the important thing is to stay informed and monitor your children’s media activities to the extent that it is possible. Talk about why you object to a program, game, or Internet site, and why Internet chatting in particular can be a matter of life and death. The good news is that along with changing technologies, there are also a widely proliferating array of tools available to help parents oversee what’s out there. These basic tasks (monitoring and staying informed) have not changed, even though the specific media constantly change.
Dr. David Walsh and his “National Institute on Media and the Family” is one such tool. Dr. Walsh is presenting an upcoming seminar in our city, (Harrisonburg, Va. May 13-14, at Massanutten Presbyterian Church), and so I was researching some of his advice for families. In one of his “Dr. Dave” columns, he talks about the effects of media violence, and how experts sometimes disagree on those effects: “It's not that every teen who plays Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is going to go out and pick up an Uzi,” says Walsh. “The real impact is much more subtle. The worst effect of ultra violent, sexually exploitative video games is the culture of disrespect they create.”
Walsh goes on to remind us: “Whoever tells the stories defines the culture. What do we think the effect is when our kids' storytellers are violence simulators that glorify gang culture, celebrate brutality, extol crudeness and trivialize violence toward women?” Essentially in our culture the advertisers who pay the bills decide on what stories are told and what values are upheld.” For more see www.mediafamily.org
I’m not so old (nor are my children) for me to remember my frustration with them playing endless hours of one of the earlier versions of the Sims people games. The games were obviously very creative, charming and fun—but a huge time gobbler. The kids were old enough to monitor their own time limits—they knew the consequences of not getting their homework done. But parents with younger children have to set time limits, or allow them to play only after they have adequately done their homework and chores. Since kids are experts at begging and cajoling for more time, parents have to be consistent every time and say, no, your time is up, or whatever you agreed on.
Two additional organizations that provide up-to-date reviews and analysis of everything from teen music to movies to TV shows, are Walt Mueller’s Center for Parent/Youth Understanding at http://www.cpyu.org/ and the Media Literacy organization (started in the 70’s) by Elizabeth Thoman, at http://www.medialit.org/ Finally, at our own website there are regular weekly reviews of TV, movies, music and more at www.thirdway.com/mm You can sign up for the reviews free to your email box at http://www.thirdway.com/subscriptions/
Our vigilance as parents is critical as children grow through every stage from 1-19!
For two brochures from Dr. Walsh with parent tips on Internet and Video Games, write to Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg Va., 22802, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your paper's name in your response.)
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 917 words; end material = 105 words
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