NORTH ADAMS -- Between violence in the local news, suggestive soap operas and grisly video games, bringing up children in today's media-rich -- and often not family friendly -- culture can be a tough job.
A few local mothers had a chance to vent about this issue at a presentation called "What Effect Does the Media Have On Children's Play and Development?" The discussion was held by professor Erica Scharrer from the University of Massachusetts, at the Sarah Haskins Community Center on Thursday.
Scharrer, 34, has taught at the Amherst campus in the department of communications for six years. She lectures on the social impact of mass media, children and teen relation to the media and media violence. She holds a doctorate in mass communication from Syracuse University and co-wrote the book "Television: What's on, Who's Watching and What it Means."
Most of the mothers at the presentation spent a lot of the time expressing how hard it is to keep their children insulated from the vices in mass media. Even fairy tales seemed too violent, they bemoaned.
To protect their children, some would stop their young ones from spending time at certain friends' homes for fear their kids would see a show or play a video game that they shouldn't. Others monitored and limited the amount of TV watched.
Still, as hard as these mothers try, it can be almost impossible to completely insulate a child from the sex, violence and inappropriate language that comes through the tube every night -- especially when kids almost impulsively want to watch.
"My kids know if I'm tired they can get TV out of me," one mother lamented.
Scharrer said that children under seven are usually drawn to the less plot-driven aspects of TV and tend to fixate on a single part of a show.
Those in that age group like to watch, she said, because they are drawn to the music or graphics or sound effects -- not what's actually going on between the characters. What they take away from the experience might be something a parent might not even notice or realize the child's focus on it.
Scharrer said children as young as two and three tend not to realize that television is not real and might end up talking about cartoon characters as if they are alive.
The problem with controlling content can be compounded by the fact that most parents don't know how to block channels on a TV and don't know what the TV ratings system means.
On top of that, Scharrer said America is very media saturated at home. A regular household has three televisions, 73 percent of homes have computers and one out of four children has a TV in his or her own room, she said.
Scharrer suggested to the parents, how can a mother know what her son or daughter is watching or how often if her child owns his or her own TV?
To these problems, Scharrer suggested some solutions. She said subjective moderation is the most important. Getting rid of a child's TV might be a good first step, she said.
"I'm less a 'kill your television' person than a 'wound your television' person," Scharrer said. "It's important to set limits on the amount and content your child watches on your own ideas of what's OK and what's not."
Scharrer suggested that television does not ultimately take the place of children playing, but does shape it. Children in play will act out what they see on TV, she said, which is why there might always be a "bad guy" involved.
She added that balancing TV watching was especially necessary because several studies have tied excessive watching to obesity and poorer performance in school.
"Parental mediation," which includes active involvement and discussion of what a child is watching, is also very helpful, Scharrer said.
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