The messages kids get from their media consumption need an interpreter. And, no surprise, that translator ought to be a parent, who isn’t always well-versed in how to navigate the landscape. But research shows that just sitting at kids’ sides while they watch media can help youths increase their understanding and heighten their learning readiness.
“If we want to create a generation of media-literate kids, we have to first create a generation of media-literate adults,” Eric Rasmussen says.
Rasmussen wrote “Media Maze: Unconventional Wisdom for Guiding Children through Media” to give parents tools to help their kids become empowered consumers. The assistant professor in the College of Media and Communication brings his perspective as both a parent and a researcher.
The media that his book deals with are stories that are told – in both entertainment media and educational media.
He wants to help others with media parenting. His book can help fathers and mothers understand the challenges, their guilt and their hopes for what their children can become. His research deals mostly with entertainment media, not news and information media.
“We become what we fill our heads with, and the fact that kids fill their heads with nearly 11 hours of screen time everyday, means that a parent needs to be involved in that process of learning,” he says.
Rasmussen’s book lays out four strategies for parents to help guide children. Parents’ media use is the biggest predictor of what their children will do, so moms and dads have to change their habits. Secondly, parents need to talk to their children in language they will understand. Thirdly, parents need to establish rules in correct and most effective ways. Lastly, delivering the most effective message to youngsters while they are with their parents.
“Our job isn’t to protect kids or shield kids from media, our job is to create media savvy kids, kids who can make decisions about content for themselves because they will be exposed to it and we won’t always be there for them to help guide them in the moment.”
Rasmussen says two things surprised him as he was writing his book, which is available through Amazon. Kids are exposed to a lot more screen media – phones and televisions at home and at school -- then parents think. If there is media multitasking, doing homework on a computer while the TV is on in the background, youngsters average 11 hours. That’s more time than a night’s sleep.
The second surprising thing was how little knowledge parents have about the media and the content to which their children are exposed.
“Parents are concerned about violence and sex in the media, but parents don’t realize the extent to which violence and sex are in the media,” Rasmussen says. “On top of that, they don’t know what to do about it.”
Research Rasmussen did at Texas Tech showed just how influential parents can be when they sit down and watch with their children. Heart rates dropped and skin conductance rose when kids sat with their parents. A lower heart rate shows a readiness to learn and the skin data indicates the mental effort kids are putting into understanding what they’re watching.
“Research shows that those conversations are perhaps the single strongest influence at altering how kids are effected by media because when kids are exposed to something, that conversation with their parent can come to their mind and help them reinterpret what they’re seeing,” he says.
Rasmussen concerns about his children and others growing up today don’t surround falls into potholes or their becoming victims of some catastrophe played out in the news.
“What I am worried about is who my kids become,” he says. “I’m worried about they character. I’m worried about the values that they adopt for themselves. I’m worried about how they treat other people. I’m worried about growing them into productive members of society.”