Articles

After heated criticism of Facebook's role in disseminating "fake news," Mark Zuckerberg has declared that he wants to make the social media company "good for people's well-being." It's the height of hypocrisy, then, that the company has launched Messenger Kids, its first-ever app for children under the age of 13.

How do we help children cope with fear of nuclear war?

For the first time in decades, the news is filled with speculation about a possible nuclear war. 

For the first time in decades, the news is filled with speculation about a possible nuclear war. There was President Trump's bombastic address to the United Nations, in which he threatened to destroy North Korea, and his schoolboy exchange of taunts with that country's dangerously capricious leader, Kim Jong Un. A quick glance at the headlines is enough to learn that the North's foreign minister has declared a missile attack on the United States "inevitable," or that Pyongyang intends to explode a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific.

Adults around the world are rightfully worried about nuclear war. Unless things change soon, children will be worried too.

The new mobile game poses critical question about privacy, commercialism, and children’s attachment to screens.

My favorite 16-year-old and I spent several happy hours playing Pokémon Go the other day. We joined the throngs tapping and swiping away while meandering through historic Boston in sweltering heat. I felt a fleeting yet mysteriously intense connection with other players, pride in my single-handed capture of a rare Squirtle, and vague anxiety waiting for the phone vibrations signaling a nearby Pokémon. And I was oblivious to everything but the thrill of the chase as I stopped dead in the middle of a busy sidewalk to catch one.

Imaginary play is one of childhood's most deeply personal and important activities. Talking to and through their toys allows children the freedom to explore life, try on new roles and express their deepest hopes, fears and dreams. The precious, private space that children inhabit when they play is no place for corporate marketers and eavesdroppers.

Screen-Free Week, the international, seven-day celebration of life beyond screen-based amusements, begins today.

It's a great time to take a much-needed vacation from digital entertainment. Each year, often in conjunction with schools, organizations and whole communities, families exchange their usual screen-based leisure time activities for more time playing, creating, reading, dreaming, connecting with nature and enjoying family and friends. (Yes, we still have to use screens for work and homework.)

Creativity — our ability to invent, conjure, envision, think divergently, and change the status quo — is essential to a thriving democracy and is rooted in children’s creative play. Yet as a society, we seem to do just about everything we can to prevent even very young children from playing. Over-scheduling, lack of access to green space and early emphasis on rote learning are a few of the barriers we’ve constructed. Another primary culprit is today’s unprecedented convergence of unfettered commercialism and ubiquitous screen media

Some of the toy industry’s most powerful players are trying to hijack the Tooth Fairy. Until now, the Tooth Fairy was one of the few iconic children’s fantasy figures that escaped being captured, branded, and monetized. But shocking footage from a pitch to investors by Paul Yanover, CEO of Fandango and former Disney senior executive, shows that’s about to change — big time. The pitch is preposterous enough to be parody, but its intent is dead serious.

The African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” is a common and evocative means of arguing for the necessity of community involvement in child rearing. Care for children has to extend beyond the immediate family. It also reminds us that children’s experiences beyond the family – in the neighbourhood or community – can have a powerful impact on their growth and development.

These days, the village raising our children has been transformed by the unprecedented convergence of sophisticated, increasingly miniaturized screen technology and unfettered commercialism. As a result, children are bombarded from morning to night by messages designed not to make their lives better, but for the sole purpose of selling something. Health care providers have long known to look beyond the child to the influence and values of the family, neighbourhood and peer group. But now we have to consider the influence and values of the commercial world as well. The results of the convergence of leaps forward in technology and steps backward in corporate regulation is unprecedented in the lives of children and, while we do not know yet what kind of adults this generation of screen-saturated, commercialized children will become, there is mounting evidence that its impact may be harmful. Commercialism is a factor in many of the public health and social problems facing children today. Childhood obesity, discontent about body image , eating disorders, sexualization, youth violence, family stress, underage drinking, and underage tobacco use are all linked to advertising and marketing. So is the erosion of creative play – the foundation of learning, creativity and the capacity to make meaning of life. The underlying message of commercial marketing – ie, the things we buy will make us happy – is a major factor in the acquisition of materialistic values, which has been linked to depression and low self-esteem in children.

Childhood obesity is a major public health problem in the United States, yet US children are targeted as never before with marketing for foods high in sugar, fat, salt, and calories. Food marketing to children is highly sophisticated, increasingly well-funded, and takes place within the context of a barrage of other kinds of child-targeted marketing. The proliferation and sophistication of electronic media, the escalation of marketing in schools, changing families, and a political climate that favors deregulation have allowed marketers unprecedented access to children, including babies and toddlers. The notion--promulgated by the food industry--that parents can "just say no" to requests for highly marketed snacks and junk food is simplistic at best and cynical at worst. Instead of being viewed as a familial problem, the current marketing maelstrom should be viewed as a societal issue and addressed as such. Restriction of advertising to children is common in industrial democracies other than the United States--and is just one of many corrective actions that could be taken by our governments.

While most high-school social situations will not lead to violence, life can be pretty painful for kids who don't fit the norm.

THE SCENE
In 2001, my 15-year-old sat staring at the TV, horrified by the coverage of the school shootings in Santee, California. "My God," she said. "That could be me." If you are ever faced with a similar scene, you may find the following suggestions helpful.

What to Say
The best thing that we can do for our adolescent children is talk with them honestly about shootings and violence in America. And then listen carefully to what they say back to us.

Teenagers like and need a lot of privacy, so they may not be willing to share many details of their personal lives. However, let them know you're available, and feel free to talk with them about your feelings concerning school shootings. Here are some examples of what you might say.

Dr. Susan Linn

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