I’m not a fan of fear tactics. In fact, I often can be heard railing against them, as I believe the media’s obsession with them has made parents paranoid and forced children into a childhood that doesn’t look remotely like childhood should.

Take, for example, the belief that earlier is better. Whether we’re discussing athletics or academics, parents have come to accept as true that if they don’t get their children involved in as much as possible, as early as possible, their little ones will fall behind and never live up to their full potential. Because of this belief, far too many children are being asked to do that for which they’re not developmentally ready. The result, far too often, is frustration and failure for kids, and even an intense dislike for whatever it is they’ve been asked to master – like reading and physical activity!

Another myth under which today’s parents are laboring is that it is a dangerous, dangerous world and they must be ever-vigilant to prevent their children from being snatched, or worse. And why wouldn’t they believe such a thing, when the evidence seems to be irrefutable? Whether it’s via traditional or social media, we’re receiving constant messages about child abduction and stranger danger. But the fact remains that stranger danger is yet another falsehood and children today are no less safe than they were when I was a kid (which was a very long time ago). But how are parents to know that? How are they to believe statistics when our society has become so adept at instilling fear?

One of the consequences of this particular myth is that children aren’t being allowed to take the risks that were once a natural part of childhood – and growth. Autonomy and the ability to problem solve are among the characteristics being sacrificed at the altar of overprotection.

I raise this issue because, after posting an article to Facebook about the dangers of screen time, a colleague responded that “arousing fear and guilt in parents” is not the best way to promote play. Instead, she commented, we should be “providing opportunities for positive experiences in play for adults and children.” Consequently, I asked myself: have I become one of the fear-mongers I so abhor? After all, that’s not the first article on the dangers of screens that I’ve posted. Also, I recently hosted two radio shows on the topic: “Do You Know Enough About the Impact of Screen Time on Students?” and “New Technology-Driven Reading and Learning Disabilities.”

Am I guilty of the same wrongs of which I accuse others? Or are there instances when “spreading fear” is the most efficient way to get a message across?

I believe the answer, in part, comes down to motivation. The motivation behind the spread of the “earlier-is-better” myth is typically competition – and not the healthy kind. Naturally, parents want the best for their children; but when it’s all about their child being “number one” … well, there are few healthy outcomes there.

And the impetus behind the media’s fear-mongering? It sells…and money motivates.

And my motivation in arousing fear? I like to think of it as more of the Paul Revere brand. Had he not warned that the British were coming, many would have suffered! Similarly, I feel that if I don’t warn parents and educators of certain dangers, children will be gravely hurt.

Of course, if I honestly believed that the majority of parents and early childhood educators were aware of the research regarding the physical and emotional hazards of screen time, I might choose a different – i.e., a more positive – approach. But there are many reasons not to believe this. Among them are the facts that:

  • much of the research is new;
  • keeping up with research takes time that most parents and educators don’t have; and
  • the myth that screen time equals learning time has already become deeply engrained in the minds of most.

I consider myself a positive person, but when it comes to protecting kids I realize I can get a bit extreme with the negativity. So I do appreciate my colleague’s comments. And I’ve decided that the solution, as it is for so many other dilemmas, seems to lie in balance. I will try to point out the positives more often. But, like Paul Revere, I will also warn of dangers when I witness them.

 

4 Comments

  1. Hello Rae Pica ~ I enjoyed your musings on using or not using ‘fear’ as a tool to guide parents, children, youngsters, and young people on the very real dangers of over-use or late night use of blue-light emitting devices. I have had a Post “Beware the Light!!” for a couple of years, and I update it regularly. You made me wonder if I was doing more harm than good by pointing out the deleterious consequences for everyone of over-use & late night use. I decided to re-look at the Post, and must agree there was an element of ‘scaring’ involved. Then, I decided it was warranted. Unlike very many other types of products, all electronic products are so connected with people’s lives, and through the continual self-marketing, people become very brand loyal, believing they have a relationship with the manufacturer of their mobile / cell phone, or whatever items they use. The constant reinforcement of the brand and the relentless expansion of the additional uses and applications, capacities, and benefits, mean that owners are being bombarded by their own mobile phone to upgrade itself and make life more ‘wonderful’! I cannot think of any other range of products that has that degree of constant intimacy with its owners. I give suggestions within “Beware the Light!!” to other Posts which encourage parents to bring their children out to play in a park or any nearby greenery. I try to encourage reducing costs on activities and put an emphasis on families having their own nature projects, which work very well slap bang in the middle of a great city, as well as suburbia. I think I shall keep hopping up and down about the blue-light emitting devices, but I hope this is balanced by “Summer City Nature”, “Children’s City Lives”, and “A Youngster’s Project”, plus Posts I have prepared to help students develop self-reliance, self-confidence through taking control of their work. I’ve read quite a number of your Posts, and I think the sense of humour, and recognition of the ridiculous, you convey would take the sting out of any ‘giving out’ while getting the message across. If I’ve done the background work for parents / guardians, they can then take control of the situation, and start an informed conversation on cyber-bullying, or what happens when children and youngsters do not get enough sleep. I believe if the adults appear to know about these subjects, the younger people will come with their questions, and if the answers aren’t in my Post, it would still be easy enough to follow the research Links to find out whats wanted. Regards, Iseult.
    Iseult Catherine O’Brien, “Education Matters”, http://www.icobrien.com.

    • Thanks for your comment, Iseult! I’m so glad you decided that your warning was warranted. Obviously, I agree with you.

      And thank you for the kind words about my posts. I care so deeply, as you obviously do as well, about the well-being of children. We just have to keep fighting the good fight, using a blend of the negative and the positive!

  2. The avoidance of risk-taking extends to daily activities. I witness parents taking excruciating measures to not allow their children the natural desire to explore their environment in a fun and measured manner. Their children’s curiousity is stifled for being too risky when it is the parent that can’t take the heat. It is heart breaking to know that their own parents are stunting the children’s independence and ability to problem solve. It’s a direct reflection in students that go off on their own and can’t make a decision for themselves.

    • Yes! College and university counselors are seeing more and more young people who don’t know how to do the simplest things. Who are coming to them with the most minor of issues because they’ve never learned to do for themselves!

      And you’re also right about it being the parents who can’t take the heat, John. I say all the time in my presentations that parents are the easiest group of people in the world to scare. And I understand the fear. BUT they simply have to get their priorities straight. If they only knew the true results of what they’re doing to their children they might be able to tamp down the fear enough to put the kids’ needs first. That’s why I’ll continue to speak out!

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