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.