Superbowl commercial bingo – a critical thinking game

SuperbowlBingo_featuredimageThis Sunday, make watching the big game a teachable moment for your kids. Encourage them to watch the commercials more closely and critically than they usually do, and to identify ways that the advertisers try to get their attention.

Download this free 4-pack of bingo cards. Each card has a unique mix of 25 squares, which are individual elements they might see in a commercial. Two examples are: “Features a celebrity” and “Makes unbelievable claims about a product.” They’re parent-approved as appropriate for kids age 10 and older.

As they watch the game, kids can draw an X over a square when they see a commercial that matches the element in it. Prizes can be given for a row and/or a ‘blackout’ when the entire card is filled in. Parents or teachers can use this game as a conversation starter to get kids talking about what they saw in the commercials. For suggestions, download the Parent/Educator Guide.

 

 

 

Reality show on teen pregnancy reduces the real thing

16-and-Pregnant_screenshotIt turns out, reality TV stars may not all be the role-models-from-hell that so many parents fear. While no one has studied the impact of Jersey Shore to my knowledge, they have looked at the effects of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant. I was surprised to learn that this series – along with its Teen Mom spinoffs – may have actually reduced the rate of teen pregnancy during the time it was first broadcast.

Researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research studied Google searches, Twitter activity, and teenage girls’ childbirth rates during the period between 2009 and 2012 when the series were first broadcast. They found that search engine activity related to the series and to birth control increased following the show’s introduction. Tweets about the series and about birth control also increased. As the researchers state, this suggests that the show “had some influence on [viewers] in a way that could potentially change their behavior.”

In addition, researchers looked at the statistics for teens giving birth, specifically for those who would have conceived during the year-and-a-half when 16 and Pregnant was first broadcast. Statistical analysis suggests that the show contributed to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births during the sample period. This accounts for approximately one-third of all the overall reduction in teen births during that time. The researchers attribute much of the rest to effects of the recession.

Why did the series make some teens think twice? Researchers examined the content and themes of the episodes, and observed that the shows depict:

  • Little use of birth control; three-quarters of the girls in the series said they were not using contraception when they became pregnant.
  • Extensive sleep deprivation.
  • Strained relationships with the father of the child; more than half of the couples were having difficulties or had broken up at the end of the episode.
  • Negative impacts on the health and well-being of the teen mother herself.

teen_mom_magazine_coverI was especially surprised by these findings, as many of my own college students have written term papers in which they theorized that such shows glamorize teen pregnancy by turning the teen moms into celebrities. But not all teens perceive the shows and their cast members this way. A survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 77 percent of teens who watch 16 and Pregnant said that it helps them “better understand the challenges of pregnancy and parenthood.” In contrast, 23 percent said it made “pregnancy and parenthood look easy and fun.”

This study demonstrates the power of the media to educate young people (for better or worse) and make them think about risks and the decisions they make every day.

 

An expert talks about effects of media violence

It’s early January, it’s frigid outside, and many kids are still home on winter break. Violent video games and movies are likely occupying the attention of some of them. This week, I picked the brain of an internationally known expert about the effects of media violence on children.

Craig_Anderson_headshotDr. Craig A. Anderson is a Professor of Psychology at Iowa State University and the Director of the Center for the Study of Violence. He is also the father of two, a boy and a girl, who are now in their twenties.

Misunderstandings about media violence

“Most people don’t think that media violence has much of an impact on aggressive behavior in general,” Anderson said. “There are a lot of reasons for that, among them that the press has not done a good job of conveying accurately what the research shows.”

He cites studies that show that mainstream media coverage misrepresents the research, and that the misrepresentation has become worse over the last 10 years. Reporters tend to oversimplify the problem, and counter claims that media violence directly causes violent behavior.

“Those of us who study media violence effects do not claim, and have never claimed, that media violence is the only – or even the primary – cause of aggression,” Anderson said. “That would be foolish. We often get characterized as saying that…but it’s a position that none of us has taken.”

“What we’re really saying, and what people really need to understand, is that any of the more extreme forms of aggression, really requires multiple risk factors to be present at the same time.”

“Media violence is only one of them,” he explained. “It happens to be one that is very pervasive, that almost everyone is exposed to. It happens to be one that a large portion of the population are exposed to frequently. It happens to be one that is easy and cheap to fix, from a parent’s perspective.”

“We can’t do anything about the genetics [and] we typically can’t do a whole lot about social environment,” Anderson said.

He added that parents who more closely monitor their kids can control their social influences somewhat, but it’s still more difficult than simply monitoring a child’s media intake.

“It’s not nearly as easy as providing a healthy media diet, rather than an unhealthy one.”

What the statistics really mean

Anderson said the mainstream media tend to report that media violence effects studies demonstrate a ‘small to moderate effect,’ which doesn’t seem that concerning to an average person. But he explains that this is a statistical definition, and the term ‘small’ can misrepresent the actual risk.

“We know that some small effects can have a pretty big impact at a societal level,” he said.

Anderson points out that studies about childhood lead exposure reveal only a small to moderate effect on brain development, but we as a society have taken dramatic measures to reduce lead in homes and other buildings. He wishes we would take violent media more seriously as a threat.

Does the type of media matter?

Anderson said researchers don’t really know for sure if one type of media ‘teaches’ aggressive behavior more effectively. “Violent video games and violent screen media probably have a bigger impact than other forms…and there’s very little evidence that reading violent-themed books will have the same impact.”

Lord-of-the-Rings-MovieHe thinks that books put violence in a context more effectively than do other forms of media. As an example, he compares the amount of violence in Lord of the Rings in book and movie forms.

“What percent of time in the movie is one looking at, thinking about, and essentially cheering on violent behavior? It’s probably fifty percent, and there’s not a whole lot of context behind it.” He compares this with the books in the series, in which significantly less time is focused on violence.

“It isn’t like books have no impact…but in terms of what most adolescents are exposed to, I’d much rather have them reading about factual things about World War II than playing certain violent video games based on World War II. They’ll actually learn some history, and if it’s a well-written book, they’ll get some context about what was going on. They’ll get a feeling for the suffering of individuals who were killed and maimed, and the suffering of family members.”

What can parents do?

He says that he and most of his fellow researchers give the same advice to parents concerned about the children’s media use:

“The first thing is, you shouldn’t have any kind of gaming system available in the kids’ private space. Keep the bedroom for reading, drawing, and sleeping. But no TV, DVD player, GameBoy, Internet access, especially for the younger children, but even in high school.”

Keeping such devices in more public spaces such as the kitchen or dining room, Anderson said, makes incidental monitoring by parents and caregivers easier. The research shows that such casual supervision reduces the number of hours kids spend on inappropriate media.

Monitoring also helps parents learn more about the media their children are actually using. Anderson said surveys show that kids often don’t reveal what their real favorite media are if they think their parents will find out. Some falsely claim they watch the Disney channel, and the parents might not question that.

“Parents frequently don’t know what their kids are doing,” he said.

There is evidence that active parental involvement, particularly ongoing discussions about why certain media are inappropriate, can help in two ways: it can decrease the amount of such media content the children seek out, and it can help children understand acceptable and unacceptable uses of violence in the real world.

Such conversations do not inoculate children against violent media content, but they do seem to help limit their effects.

“There is evidence that it provides a protective layer,” he said. “They’re still harmed, but they don’t seem to be as harmed.”

But my kid is OK, right?

Anderson cautions parents against assuming that their own children are immune to effects of violent media content, even if other children are affected. This assumption is known as the ‘third-person effect,’ and Anderson sees it frequently in his work.

“These effects occur even if you don’t feel them occurring.” He compares it with eating a huge cheeseburger; you don’t feel your cholesterol rising, but it’s happening nonetheless. For better or worse, children learn lessons from media about how to resolve conflict, how to treat others, and when it’s appropriate to behave aggressively.

He encourages parents to have ongoing conversations with kids, comparing their values with what they see on the screen: “What’s important to us? What’s important to our family? How does the real world work?”

“You can convey this idea that it isn’t appropriate,” Anderson said. “That we don’t bully others, that we don’t talk to people in this harmful way, that all of these are forms of aggression.”