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I know that this is an long write-up, but today’s fantastic event really deserves it!

It’s taken a lot of emails and turning over of ideas to get our CASBAA panel topic and guests just right. Recognising that we create the world in which we live, especially with such strong media influences, we will look at how today’s media affect our children – tomorrow’s leaders – how it shapes our thoughts, how children consume media and how they then see the world.


 

Our panel is made up of moderator and CNN International anchor/ correspondant, Kristie Lu Stout, with panel members: Christine Brendle, founding partner of Kids Dailies Limited and non-executive independent director of The Red Flag group; Jeremy Hall-Smith, Managing Director, Persuasive Networks Ltd; Jay Oatway, leading social media authority in Asia-Pacific; Alice Wilder, Educational Psychologist. 

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Lu-Stout opens the event admitting that as a youngster she watched it all, from Degrassi Junior High and Duck Tales to prime time shows like Golden Girls – totalling about five hours of media content a day. Now, we have more screens and different devices, on top of the web, apps and video games.

While second screen viewing is common, it’s something we didn’t experience as children. Wilder says that media kids can access as much media as they like. But she points out that kids don’t change – media does. “Their developmental needs and the impact media has on them doesn’t change, despite all these devices,” she says. Even from pre-school and early primary, children access things like YouTube and play with apps via their parents’ devices. What is the impact?

Defining ‘impact’, we look at language development. According to Brendle, from birth to five, parents push tablets and are proud at how fast children learn to use the right kind of technology, say for for language acquisition, especially when learning more than one language or how to write.

But after that age, parents want children to use pen and paper and take away access to the tablet. It’s a confusing message for children. “This needs reconciling. Our children’s minds will be different if they don’t learn to write the way we did, that’s part of how our brains develop, through tracing and copying.”

For Oatway, it’s about parental choices. Digital devices feel like unchartered waters when it comes to child rearing. “We’re weary of just plopping our kids in front of the TV and apps,” he says. There’s so much content now, accessible on so many devices that you have to co-view.

Lu points out that parents now curate what their children see, which was not such a factor in the past. Managing what your children watch or what app they use takes time to research and curate, Outway points out. But some apps and games are developed for learning and can be used well. Another point is that parents don’t often use parental locks, but typically the same device is used around the house, so kid can and will access programs used by adults too.

“What’s allowed into your house?” asks Wilder. It’s true, you wouldn’t have just any babysitter but the screen acts as one.

Do you converse with your child about what they have seen and what they feel about it? For instance, a program like Wilder’s Cha-Ching Money Smart Kids, which teaches financial literacy to 7-12 year olds, might encourage a child to talk about money with their parents, learning about something important.

But Wilder points out, conversations at school, even if your child didn’t see it, gives an experience of it. Hall-Smith re-iterates: Most parents don’t engage with their children over their TV viewing. “It’s more ‘I don’t have time at the moment,’ than a tool for discussion”. Perhaps in truth, we don’t approve of screen babysitting.

 

Kids online
Children going online is another media issue for parents. “In the past, it was the geeky kid who went online but now, all kids might do that, finding friends online who like what they like.” says Oatway, He says benefits include increasing self esteem. On top, the social currency is that you find things online that you talk about in the playground, making you cool and part of a group. It’s cool to be geeky.

Using Twitter in the classroom has also been positive according to Wilder. Young children learn about communication and if they tweet out, parents can see it and know what their child did that day, but also, children learn how to write messages and share their day.

Cyber bullying is a recent and heavy issue. Currently the story of three girls in Florida is all over the news. This unchartered territory is one that parents will have to watch this as their kids grow. But Oatway says “social media is open and transparent so cyber bullying isn’t secret – it’s not the back alley behind school, so why is this happening?”

If anything, social media should teach kids to be open and friendly but also learn how to build the right network of reliable friends and reach out if something bad happens. An issue that Oatway points out is that media is changing so fast that some children haven’t known to reach out and nor have adults been aware of the issues. Bad things have happened. Wilder reconfirms her belief that parents are responsible for discussing their kids activities with them: What have they been doing? Why? Perhaps again, the issue here, is lack of time.

Children’s digital footprint and privacy are another issue for Internet use. Online privacy classes might well be taught in schools eventually, alongside sex ed. “Being online and private depends on what network you use,” says Oatway. Twitter can be private, but Facebook is harder to manage in terms of managing privacy. But he advocates that Google + and Facebook encourage the use of real names, which leads for a more bona fide online friend. “The worst online trolls usually hide behind an anonymous mask. Here’s another conundrum: We want privacy but we also want transparency.”

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Copying what’s on screen – or do ratings matter?
In China a video of two boys were caught having tied a nine year old to a tree and set fire to him. They were copying a cartoon. But Hall-Smith points out that this is no different to the Three Stooges, it’s not new media.

Video games are something that parents and producers both consider when it comes to age appropriateness – and laws ensure that. But does that thought reach further? “There’s no longer a separate bubble of adult and child content,” says Brendle. Lu-Stout steps into the discussion with an anecdote: This conversation happens regularly at CNN International, who have recently introduced a “WARNING” alert on screen so that parents can stop their children from seeing inappropriate news content.

Rating systems or lack thereof matter – TV and apps are ungoverned, but broadcast is much more regulated than digital. Oatway says, “digital has a better chance of fixing this issue than broadcast will, because as people increasingly log into content via a social media account like Facebook, the channel or media source can identify the supposed age of that user. TV doesn’t have that luxury.”

Hall-Smith quips, “you’re pre-supposing that those running such platforms have an interest in verifying the age of the person behind the account. Children will subvert any controls they can. The genie is out of the bottle and always has been. Look at what they’d do to get GTA!”

Brendle reminds us again, “we need to consider what needs to be protected from the past, from traditional roles of education.” Her concern is less over morals but what brain activities, what stimuli we know works. Wilder adds that technology is just another tool, nothing else. Pre-schoolers are curious and are life-long learners, so as adults creating content we should capture that, and use technology to help. The invention of the printing press didn’t make everyone an author. The invention of the camera didn’t make everyone a director.

 

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