Greg Childs, Director of the Children’s Media Foundation www.thechildrensmediafoundation.org has some helpful strategies to navigate the kids and media minefield.
My son’s in his twenties now. He was brought up with the internet, started to learn to read by playing video games, and is one of the generation for whom watching TV has nothing to do with the plans of broadcast schedulers, and very little to do with a TV set. Like all young people he leads a connected life – and has done so since around the age of nine. But I recall the difficulties of allowing him to go online for the first time. Even though I was producing the first BBC websites for children, I found myself in the odd situation of deciding to not have an internet connection at home until he was old enough to discuss what he might encounter there. This was of course in the days before content filters and parental controls.
Now pre-schoolers are online, using apps, playing games, watching video content on a regular basis. Older children are socialising online – and much of that is mobile – away from the home an potentially away from parental influence. They’re learning about the world in ways which parents often find bewildering – and sometimes worrying. But no-one can imagine a siuation in which this access to information, entertainment, discussion, education and much more could be rolled back. They are connected and that is a fact of life.
So here’s my first tip – find out about whatever controls are available from your internet provider, on your TV set or set-top box, or in the app store – and use them. Huge numbers of parents still don’t, because they are a chore. But they are a vital frontline defence against kids stumbling into content that they (and you) would find disturbing.
At the Children’s Media Foundation (CMF) we recognise that kids are going to spend their young lives surrounded by media options. In fact we celebrate how liberating and empowering this can be. But we appreciate that parents find it of concern. In fact we started out just over two years ago with a key purpose of helping parents better understand the media that is made for their kids and the ways in which they consume it, and the media not specifically made for them and how this can impact on their lives. The ultimate aim being to equip them to cope with the choices on offer and the decisions they would need to take about them.
We’ve been putting various plans in place to bring academic research – and there is a great deal of it on kids and TV, the internet and games – into the public space. We set up an All Party Parliamentary Group on Children’s Media and the Arts – to help politicians better understand what research has to offer and to discuss the issues around children’s use of media with legislators. Similarly we have been working closely with regulators, such as Ofcom, the BBC Trust, PhonePay Plus and the Office of Fair Trading on serving the children’s audience effectively. We’ve set up a series of public events to discuss some of the issues, and we publish a Yearbook, which is a comprehensive round-up of articles on the latest research, industry practice, discussion and debate.
We see our role as building bridges – between the academic community and the kids’ media industry; between the industry and regulators; between policy-makers and the research sector. Above all, we want to connect parents with the information they need to help them deal with the complex media lives of their kids.
Which is why we have recently launched a new service on the CMF website. Parent Portal is designed to bring you the best research from the academic world, digested for ease of use in parents’ busy lives.
Currently Parent Portal addresses six frequently asked questions, such as “Will playing violent video games make my child aggressive?” or “Will spending too much time in front of a screen affect my child’s social skills?” The most up-to-date research on the subjects has been compiled by an academic partner into some key points and a longer article, including references for deeper reading if required. It’s basically a one-stop-shop for information that can help parents decided where they think the problems lie, and provide some context for conversations with their kids on boundaries, standards and personal choices. It doesn’t provide all the answers, and in many cases there is evidence on both sides – so it offers both points of view – but we hope its thought-provoking articles will help to re-set the agenda for parents who need to help their kids find their way in the complex modern media landscape.
More questions and more research responses will follow over time. We hope that if parents find Parent Portal useful they will sign up in support of the CMF as we are funded entirely by donations. Or at the very least subscribe to our monthly newsletter for a wide range of information and opinion on childhood and media today.