Kids' media, kids' minds and hearts: Some resources
The messages we’re exposed to can play such an important role in how we view ourselves and our world. For children, what they see and hear is even more important—kids are forming their sense of self and ideas about what it means to be in this world.
Research shows without a doubt that media exposure to aggression (in movies or video games, etc) correlates with increased aggression in the viewer. The more violence kids watch, the more violent they become.
You’ll find the same story in the research showing more media exposure for kids is linked with lower self-esteem, poorer body image and increased rates of eating disorders.
There are so many things kids see and hear that overtly, or subtly give them feedback about themselves and their world. Messages about appearances, gender roles, what the culture values, what they “should” value, how to be accepted, how to find happiness and how to be loved.
It’s easy to overlook some of the harmful messaging. For example, we might applaud a movie with a female heroine who shows independent thought while overlooking that her eyes are so large they make up approximately half of her face, and her waist is so narrow she clearly has no internal organs.
Then there’s things like the innocent sticker handed out at the bank. A superhero for the boy, a princess for the girl. Just because the teller peeked in the car and saw a boy doesn’t mean that boy likes aggressive, scary-looking, dark, overly muscular superheroes. And just because I have a boy, it certainly doesn’t mean I want him to think that that’s what it means to be a valued male in this culture.
And just because there’s a little girl in the car doesn’t mean she loves or even knows the latest “girl characters” and princesses, and it definitely doesn’t mean I want her to grow up thinking that beauty, a thin physique, fashionable clothes and a face full of makeup is what it takes to be a valued female in this culture.
(By the way, I have nothing at all against princesses; they’re a classic archetype and part of the human story. I do have a problem with the way that the appearances of most “girl characters” contribute to girls feeling bad about their own looks. And I feel Hollywood needs to evolve a lot faster).
And yes, my bank tellers have heard my polite explanation of why I prefer the stickers with “friendly animals” or simply something like a classic yellow smiley face. I’m happy to report that instead of an eye roll, I usually get a thoughtful look from tellers and then a sincere smile the next time they hand me a “friendly animal” sticker.
The bank sticker example might seem extreme to some people. But I feel anytime we can politely make a good, simple case for something that gets people to think more, it’s worthwhile.
If you care about your kids’ sense of self, or of their ability to establish healthy values, or their ability to understand where real happiness comes from, it’s critical to be conscious of media exposures. Here are some resources to help:
Common Sense Media: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/
This is a wonderful comprehensive website that gives ratings and information about movies, books, apps and games. It also has general tips for parents about media exposure. You have to create a sign-in, but it’s free and well worth it.
Wayne Dyer’s children’s books: https://www.drwaynedyer.com/products/format/childrens-books/
I love these books, which are full of positive, helpful lifelong messages from the late Wayne Dyer.
Waldorf schools and Montessori schools: Find a local one and ask what’s in their libraries, or look online for the books and toys they use. You’ll find thoughtful, conscientious and beautiful messages that foster meaningful values and positivity in individuals and the world.
New Moon Girls magazine or online community: https://newmoongirls.com
Their saying “Give the gift of freedom to be herself,” says it all. This is an ad-free magazine geared at girls from about 8 through the teen years. Good stuff. Find it online or in stores that sell healthy or natural foods and products.
Sparkle Stories audio books: https://www.sparklestories.com/
They have great original audio stories for children with positive messages. These sweet stories have a relaxed pace. You can get some of their stories free or subscribe for access to their full audio library.
Ditch the toys that perpetuate these unhelpful messages.
Keeping that old Barbie around the house for your little one isn’t going to do any good for your children’s body image when they reach those teen years. My opinion is these kinds of toys belong in the past and the trash.
Change relies us on calling out the outdated, unhelpful messages that can ultimately permeate our kids’ beliefs. When enough people speak up about little things, people start to think and change begins.
For one simple example of speaking up, this is on my to-do list as a five-minute task: Calling the natural body care company that markets kids’ products with, “Silly Enough For Kids – Serious Enough for Moms!” and letting them know I don’t appreciate the advertising and will change my buying habits accordingly.
This “innocent” message says: MOMs are the ones who care for the kids, and MOMs are the ones who do the shopping and MOMs are the primary caregivers. What about the DADs I know who are the stay-at-home parent, or the primary caregiver, or who do just as much as mom for the family? And what about the families where there are two DADs and no mom? Goodness, who’s buying the toothpaste there?! The point is, the marketing is outdated and unhelpful.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
- Margaret Mead