Tip #25 – Teach Daughters AND Sons to be Critical of Female Portrayals in Media

Dec 01

There is a growing army of female warriors determined to battle the media’s assault on female empowerment and self-confidence. The likes of Miss Representation and Spark are two such inspiring grassroots organizations that campaign to stop the proliferation of degrading portrayals of women in movies, TV shows, ads, and more. I wholly applaud them because their words to North American females echo those I share with my own family. With one exception: I have sons.

As my oldest son leans toward his tween years, I feel a particular urgency to open his eyes to the inaccurate representations of women of which he is increasingly exposed.

The days of 24/7 Treehouse TV are long gone and YouTube viewing is slowly migrating into music video territory with movie preferences getting dicy.

While I understand that the campaign to fight negative female stereotypes is by-and-large a female issue, more emphasis needs to shift toward educating our boys to think critically about this issue. After all, some of the most offensive displays of women (think: helpless, “stupid”, barely dressed) are emblazoned in magazines and movies marketed directly to men. If we, as parents, are not teaching our boys that these images do not truthfully reflect the value of women, then I don’t believe the battle will as hard fought as it could be.

A couple of weeks ago, my 11-year-old son’s friend blurted that he was going to see the movie Jack and Jill. I’d just seen the commercial and had been struck by the degrading treatment of the “ugly” sister. (I know it’s supposed to be funny that she is played by Adam Sandler but the message isn’t: treat pretty girls well and ugly girls like garbage.)

My knee jerk response was to exclaim how awful the movie looked and to point out that is completely degrading to women. My son, used to this kind of talk, didn’t bat an eye but his friend looked at me like I’d just grown a horn out of the top of my head.

“I don’t like Adam Sandler movies,” I’d muttered as I cleared the dinner dishes. My son would not be thrilled if I’d stepped onto my soap box and lectured on the importance of critical thinking in front of his friend, so I left it at that. However, the experience helped me to realize that this issue of misrepresentation of women is relying almost completely on the shoulders of mothers and daughters, when it truly should be a battle shared by all. I, for one, am doing my part and I hope others join me.

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Tip #24 – Beware of Too Much Free Time for Kids in Screen Time Culture

Nov 16

Too much free time can be too much of a good thing according to a new study in the Applied Research in Quality of Life Journal that was recently covered in the.  Findings (after questioning 1200 high school students) indicated that materialism and compulsive buying are a negative result of having an over-abundance of thumb-twiddling time (and perhaps an increase in screen time?) Boredom, it appears, does not always open doors to the imagination but can be a fuel for consumerism.

While this isn’t technically a “tech” tip for hair-pulling parents overburdened with the task of wrenching their children away from an animated rectangle (of various sizes), it is relevant given that most kids’ free time directly correlates to their screen viewing time. In my house, particularly, computer time is typically awarded after completion of certain tasks: homework, piano practice, emptying the trash, vows to be silent. In other words, when their time no longer is entrusted to adult-enforced regiments, they’re free to do as they wish. Unfortunately for most parents, today’s kids will often select an activity that involves a screen when they have nothing left to do.

This quick access to video is likely one of the culprits causing the unhappy results of too much free time for the modern adolescent. Boredom that translates into mindful activities such as reading books, playing ball in the park, or pursuing a hobby like jewellery-making or woodworking isn’t going to turn a kid into a perennial mall rat. However, if such activities are trumped by television viewing, surfing the web, or video gaming, the influence to conform according to the standards of advertisers, brands, and “cool kids” on sitcoms is ever-present. I have no intention of railing against the advertising machine, after all, they’re just trying to earn the profits they need to flourish as businesses.  As a parent, however, my bigger concern is my child’s happiness.  And, a screen that entertains is also a vehicle to pressure people to seek some retail therapy.  A kind of therapy, it turns out, we’d be better to live without.

While it’s not news that spending too much time in front of a screen is no recipe for happiness, parents should also consider just how much time their kids are spending doing, um, nothing. Filling some of that extra time with sports, clubs and lessons will actually make them happier. I guess I should pat myself on the back, then. I’d always thought that when my kids complained about all the time they spend practicing piano and doing homework was an indication of their misery when, in fact, they’re happy as can be. Now, if only I could convince them of that.

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Tip # 23 – Talk Reality about the Effects of Reality TV

Nov 08

Do your kids watch reality TV? If so, perhaps you should consider the effects of reality TV on their view of themselves and those around them. The recent Girls Scout Research Institute’s study of 1,100 girls found significant differences between reality show fans and non-fans. Besides the obvious concern that many of these series’ glorify vacuous women whose sole objective in life is to look prettier than that woman, the research on television list additional reasons why a parent should pay attention to their kids’ viewing habits of the boob tube (no anatomical pun intended).

All or most of the girls in the study (fans and non-fans) concluded that reality shows:

  • Promote bad behaviour. (100% of girls)
  • “Often pit girls against each other to make the shows more exciting.” (86% of girls)
  • “Make people think that fighting is a normal part of a romantic relationship.” (73% of girls)
  • “Make people think it’s okay to treat others badly.” (70% of girls)

Reality show aficionados are more likely than those who do not watch the shows to believe:

  • Gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls
  • It’s in girls’ nature to be catty and competitive with one another
  • It’s hard to trust other girls.
  • Girls often have to compete for a guy’s attention
  • They are happier when dating someone than not.

Surprisingly, however, these same Jersey Shore and Kardashian viewers are more self-assured than those who shun reality TV and are more likely to aspire to leadership, as well as currently see themselves as leaders.  The caveat is how they may be achieving their status of leadership since they are more likely to think “you have to lie to get what you want,” that “being mean earns you more respect than being nice,” and “you have to be mean to others to get what you want.”  One must ask: Are these the kinds of girls we want as leaders? Certainly gives pause for thought.

Scaling back on reality TV may be the ideal solution in a household where all things Kardashian rule, however, parents can also choose to join their kids at the screen. Point out the unrealistic aspects of these “reality” shows (how many hours and hired assistants does it take to make a Kardashian look fabulous?) When an explosive fight breaks out, explain that real friends do not gossip and say hurtful things to one another, but rather support each other through good times and bad. Eventually, your kids may see the light and realize their time spent watching mean girls on TV could be better spent elsewhere. Or maybe your rolling commentary will drive them to give up their guilty pleasure. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, either.

Photo by xposurephotos.com

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Tip #22 – Get Comfortable with Saying No

Oct 12

We live in a Yes culture.  With an abundant society such as the one in which we live, we don’t have much choice.  Back in the day (wa-a-a-ay back) when the family’s dinner consisted of what little food they could scrape together, a parent didn’t have to say no.  Any child could clearly see there were no seconds to be eaten.  There were no desserts to beg over.  There were few, if any toys, to ask for.  Fast forward to today.  Kids are surrounded by a cornucopia of opportunities to eat, play, and purchase till their every desire is satiated (at least for that moment).

That means the burden of self-control falls upon the parents’ shoulders.  Sure, the kids could play video games all day.  Just like they could eat chips and chocolate bars between every meal.  They could own the best digital devices on the market.  And they could update their Facebook profiles every five minutes.  But none of that is good for them, despite their misguided belief that it is, in fact, exactly what they need to find true happiness.

In my home, the screen is the dangling carrot for my kids, beckoning them the second that a sliver of boredom creeps into their consciousness.  ”Mom, can I play computer?”  ”Mom, can I play with your iPhone?”  ”Mom, can we play wii?”  I don’t enjoy saying no.  I really don’t.  However, in my efforts to teach them to entertain themselves as well as instil in them a sense of responsible use of time, I am forced to say no way more than they’d like to hear.

In return, I’ve received my fair share of unkind utterances from my boys.  The most popular among them is calling me the meanest mom they know.  I don’t take it personally, although sometimes it does sting just a little.  But my reward is seeing them outside playing games, skateboarding, bike riding, or building a fort in the woods when they could have been sitting in the basement staring at the screen.  All thanks to that little two-lettered word.  One day when they’re older, I tell them, they’ll realize that it was their reward, too.

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Tip #21 – Have the Talk, No Not THAT One, the Money Talk

Sep 26

If money grew on trees, I’d probably have an easier time explaining the value of a dollar to my kids than what I do with today’s spending technologies.  At least then, my children could see the latest collection of ripened bills (we’d go out every morning to reap the harvest), and the family would discuss how best to use our stash.  Should we save it?  Use it for essentials?  Or just squander it at Banana Republic (even just a bit)?

Unfortunately, my kids are growing up seeing very little exchange of actual cash.  Instead, I rely almost exclusively on my debit card.  This observation is not lost on my kids, the youngest of them recently exclaimed: “I want a card with money in it, too.”  Ah, if only it were so easy.

Soon, mobile payments will become as ubiquitous as the plastic card.  With a quick wave of the cell phone over a scanning device, (such as is offered by the Bank of Montreal and Mastercard for purchases up to $50), and TA-DA.. an item is paid for.  For those of us (read: adults) who keep track of our dwindling bank accounts and bulging credit, it’s a convenient extension of our usual purchasing practices.  However, in the eyes of an eight-year-old who wants to buy the $50 LEGO set, it’s probably more akin to magic.  Why can’t you wave your phone for stuff that I want? he may complain.

That’s why the money talk is becoming as important as that other talk.  Raising financially responsible kids is no easy feat thanks to today’s spending technology.  However, we can help them understand that an exchange of money is taking place by talking about our transactions.

After paying for groceries, for example, explain to your child that the money used to pay for the food has been taken out of your bank account and been sent to the grocery store’s account.  Even while shopping together, be honest about how much you are willing to spend, and why.  Point out the cans of soup that are on sale versus the ones that are not… and why it makes more sense to purchase the sale items.  You can take it a step further by explaining the importance of setting budgets.  The less you spend at this store, the more you can save for other things, like a family vacation.

Our kids earn an allowance for doing chores.  When they want to buy something for themselves, they can spend their own earnings.  Funnily enough, they’re a lot pickier about what they want when they know it’s coming out of their own wallets.  This experience is great training for the days to come when they have more to spend, and more at stake.

Of course, kids learn best by observing their parents’ behaviour.  I turn off lights to conserve energy and lower our electricity bills.  I point out sale prices at stores.  But I also buy plenty of things that are far beyond the periphery of essential purchases.  Usually with a debit or credit card.  Perhaps that’s why one of my sons recently asked how old he had to be to get his own credit card.  As alarm bells went off in my head, I calmly told him that every month, his dad and I pay back all the money we’ve put on our credit cards and that anyone with a credit card needs a job first.  By the time I segued that conversation into his need to do more chores, he’d lost interest.  Work? For money?  Bah!

Yep, son, money doesn’t grow on trees.  And it doesn’t flow out of mobile phones, either.

Image: worradmu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Tip #20 – No TV in the Mornings

Sep 21

Tips for Raising Kids in Digital AgeI realize this will probably not be one of my more popular tips.  For many readers this may seem a painfully obvious, common sense, bit of advice.  Others, however, may want to kick me in the butt for suggesting it because their morning TV time is so entrenched in their family routine that giving it up would be like dropping a bomb that explodes into a cacophony of whining, crying, and arguing.

I get it.  I’ve been there, myself.  For years I let my kids watch TV as soon as they got out of bed.  It kept them quiet, amused, and allowed me to slowly wake up (with coffee in hand).  But the same, frustrating problem presented itself almost every day:  I had to negotiate (read: argue) with them over when the screen had to turn off.  The conversation went something like this:

“Turn the TV off.”

“Not yet, Mom!”

“You need to eat breakfast.”

“No. It’s almost over.”

“How much longer till it’s over?”

“Five more minutes.”

“You need to get ready for school.”

“Five more minutes.”

“I don’t have time for this! You need to get ready!”

“Please!  Mom! No!  No! Don’t turn it off!”

“There’s more than five minutes left! I’m turning it off.”


“You’ll miss your bus…”

And so on, and so on.  It didn’t matter that they’d seen that particular episode of Franklin twenty times.

Sound familiar? Two years ago, I banned the television – and video games – from being turned on during school day mornings.  The fights are obsolete.  In fact, my kids have nothing better to do other than, um, get ready for school.  Go figure!  No more fights.  No more rushing to get out the door.  It’s all rather Zen-like in our household in the mornings.

This is, by far, the single biggest improvement I have experienced in our morning ritual.  The screen is a distraction – the ideal procrastination tool – preventing us from doing something more valuable with our time.  (For example: I used to sew in the evenings, now I watch Survivor).  By teaching kids to shut off the screen when they need to complete a task (like get ready for school) parents are helping them recognize the value of staying focused and the limitations of a distracted brain.

Who knows? They may even have time to make their beds and clear their breakfast dishes, leaving you more time to get the stuff done that you want to do (as long as it’s not turning on the Morning Show).

Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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