…Fear Itself

In the wake of the shootings at the Aurora, CO, movie theater last week, many of us are likely drawing inward and seeing the world outside a little differently. When an event like this happens, it’s easy to see threats everywhere in our surroundings. The news media help reinforce this perception, with their emphasis on violence and conflict. The expression “if it bleeds, it leads” describes the content of most nights’ newscasts. And even if we change the channel, we likely still see mayhem in one form or another: screaming and hair-pulling on reality shows, or kidnappings and murders on CSI.

Why do the media focus so much attention on the frightening and disturbing? Because it keeps us watching. When we feel threatened or uncertain, we want answers, so we stay tuned. More viewers means more revenue from advertisers, which keeps the media in business.

Parents can be especially vulnerable to the exaggerated depictions of violence in media. You want to protect your children by any means, and the world seems like an awfully scary and dangerous place as it’s seen on our screens. It’s difficult to maintain a rational perspective, especially in the aftermath of a violent event like last week’s shooting.

Science of Fear book cover

Gardner’s book helps us identify a very real threat: fear itself.

In his book The Science of Fear, journalist Daniel Gardner provides a fact-filled and oddly comforting reality check about which of our fears are reasonable, and which are rooted in hype and misinformation. He shows us how the media manipulate us into thinking our everyday lives are full of risk, when in fact people living in countries like the US and Canada are safer, healthier, and at less risk than any previous generation in human history.

Parents want to raise happy, confident children. But if you let the media convince you that the world is a much more dangerous place than it actually is, kids will likely pick up on that and become anxious themselves. Moreover, our fears can become crippling, preventing us from living life to its fullest and encouraging our children to do so as well. It can be very difficult to have a rational response to the media’s irrational messages of risk and fear, but it’s certainly worth trying for children’s sake.

Toy manufacturers behaving badly

Here’s where I take a break from being objective and academic and get a little pissed off. An article in today’s New York Times describes research done by Fisher Price to develop their line of apps designed for babies age six months and older. Six months? Fisher Price, these babies have their whole adult lives to spend staring at a screen, must you encourage them to start so early?

A supposedly positive image of parent-child ‘interaction’ included in Fisher Price’s press release.

In developing and marketing these apps, along with easy-to-grasp smartphone and tablet holders that double as teethers and stuffed animals, Fisher Price thumbs its nose at recommendations by some real parenting experts. The American Academy of Pediatrics clearly states on its website its position that “television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”

Shame on Fisher Price for trying to make a buck by marketing products that blatantly disregard the advice of those who only have children’s interests at heart.

And shame on the New York Times for packaging this press release as news, with only a brief mention of any research that contradicts Fisher Price’s interests.

Teens’ love/hate relationship with social media

Teens using social media

Two-thirds of teens say they text every day, but this study suggests that not all of them love to do so.

A fascinating study was recently released by Common Sense Media, which suggests that teenagers have mixed feelings about the social media they appear to love so much. It won’t come as a surprise to any parents of teens that, according to the study, nine out of ten 13- to 17-year-olds have used some form of social media, and that two-thirds text every day.

What’s most interesting are the study’s findings about how teens feel about social media. On one hand, nearly one in four teens said using media such as Facebook and Twitter makes them feel less shy, more confident, and more outgoing. When asked if social media have mainly helped or hurt their relationships with friends, more than half said that social media have helped.

On the other hand, 49 percent said their favorite way to communicate with people is in person. And not all teens love what social media do to their interpersonal interactions and day-to-day lives. Nearly half (43 percent) expressed some desire to ‘unplug’ from time to time, and 45 percent said they sometimes get frustrated with friends who text or get on social networking sites while they’re hanging out together.

Parents of teens, does this sound familiar? Have you talked with your kids about social media in their lives? How have such media changed the experience of adolescence?