Technology too much for parents

Advances in electronic media overwhelm home life and seriously reduce face time, new study finds

Toronto Star
October 16, 2007
By Andrea Gordon, Family Issues Reporter

Guiding their kids through today's onslaught of electronic media is more than Canadian parents can handle, a new report warns.

"They need help from the culture in which their children grow," writes media literacy educator and consultant Arlene Moscovitch. "And many parents feel that they are trying to raise kids in an atmosphere which is actively working against the best interests of young people."

Moscovitch's study, released yesterday by the Vanier Institute of the Family in Ottawa, says while parents are the biggest influence on how much time their kids spend online, playing video games or watching television, and how they decipher the deluge of media messages, "they can't do it alone."

"If the air is so polluted that children cannot play outside, is their health solely their parents' responsibility or are there some serious socio-economic and political deficits to be corrected?"

Vanier executive director Clarence Lochhead said the impact of media technologies has become a public health issue and it's "time for public debate about how we can protect our children ... "

The 26-page report suggests that expecting parents to fend for themselves amounts to "a downloading of social responsibility."

It's a sentiment that's sure to resonate with many parents who are less tech-savvy than their offspring.

The study – "Good Servant, Bad Master? Electronic Media and the Family" – suggests:

Kickstarting public debate among politicians, producers of media, educators and parents to develop policies that put a priority on kids' health, happiness and well-being when it comes to media.

Developing codes of conduct among media professionals.

More funding for media literacy initiatives in the school system and informal settings.

Broader public dissemination of research on the effects of media exposure on young children. While medical associations recommend no TV for children under age 2, for example, surveys reveal that message is widely ignored.

Moscovitch said in an interview that media literacy, which is already part of the school curriculum, is paramount because guidelines and legislation only go so far, particularly in the online world.

"Kids know all about the technology, but they don't know about the world," she said of the need to teach critical thinking.

Her study is an update of one conducted by the Vanier Institute in 1998. Since then, the deluge of DVD players, computers, cellphones and Gameboys has dramatically affected home life with a decline in face time and more unsupervised time spent on media.

"Whether it is parents surreptitiously checking BlackBerrys during their children's concerts, or students barely able to be separated from their cellphones during school hours, it's hard to avoid the feeling that people are often more interested in staring at screens than into someone else's eyes," says the report.