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Posts tagged ‘Parenting’

Television and Children: Health Concerns

Photo from, a parenting website.

An article from Time magazine claims that watching television is sedentary behavior, which leads to obesity and bad health. The author of the article, Alice Park, says that researchers in the U.S. and in Spain studied 111 children 3-8 years old and concluded that of all the kinds of inactivity they studied, tv-watching was worst. The study showed a higher blood pressure in kids who watched a lot of tv, whether the kid was overweight or healthy. Other activities such as computer usage did not show the same blood pressure issues. The researchers tracked the childrens’ inactivity over one week using accelerometers. They found that kids who watched 90 – 330 minutes of tv per day had systolic and diastolic blood-pressure readings that were much higher than children who watched less than half an hour per day. The author quotes Dr. David Ludwig of Children’s Hospital Boston, who says, “These results show that TV-viewing really is the worst of all possible sedentary activities”. She also cites the American Academy of Pedriatrics, which recommends that children under 2 should not watch tv at all and that older children should watch only 1 or 2 hours a day. The researchers also explain that tv-watching is often accompanied by eating ‘junk food’, which can also raise blood pressure readings.

The author, Alice Park, is a staff writer for Time magazine. She generally reports on health and medicine issues. Perhaps as a result of her background, the article seems much more focused on the medical/health effects of watching too much tv rather than the psychological effects. This differs from most of the readings, which have been more focused on psychological impacts.

According to Lynn Spiegel, adults attacked television for several reasons. One reason is that graphic violence, sexuality, and bad behavior have unwholesome effects on children which threaten “the need to maintain power hierarchies between generations and to keep children innocent of adult secrets” (144).  Parents also worried that tv did not promote family values, and felt a lack of control over what the children were exposed to (147).  Adults had “a marked desire to keep childhood as a period distinct from adulthood”, so they were extremely concerned about children aquiring knowledge of adulthood before they should (150). And, of course there were fears of children imitating on-screen violence and becoming juvenile delinquents (146). However, there is some overlap between these two sources. Spiegel mentions the idea of “telebugeye”, or “a pale, weak, stupid-looking creature who grew bugeyed from sitting and watching telvision too long” (147). Parents were convinced that telvision was becoming an addiction for children, which would “reverse good habits of hygiene, nurtrition, and decorum, causing physical, mental, and social disorders” (147). I think the Time article reveals something new about the adverse effects of television, (the blood pressure findings) although the topic of health concerns as a result of watching tv is not new. These worries voiced in the Spiegel reading and the Time article have been constant since the 50’s.

Sexy Simoleans

The first Sims game released in 2010

Growing up, I enjoyed playing video games that made me feel like I was watching a movie. That is, I appreciated games with a specific plot that allowed me to participate. The Sims is an interactive computer and video game that basically allows players to simulate daily activities of people in a suburban household. It was developed by Maxis for Windows in 2000 and cost about $60. The game has since been released on MAC, PlayStation, Xbox and GameCube.

To summarize the game is relatively simple. Players, first, get to design each member of the family. You choose their name, skin color, clothes, face, ect. You then spend time in “build mode” designing every detail of the home from size to wallpaper to windows. Once the structure is complete, the player enters “buy mode” and spends money purchasing furniture for the home. Finally, you can enter “live mode” where you essentially become the Sim. You control everything your character does including going to work, going to the bathroom, eating, and interacting with others. The characters also work on building skills such as reading and creativity as well as making sure their needs are met such as satiety and sleep. As the player, it is also your duty to maintain your finances and take care of children if you choose to have them. Many people would say that this sounds like a game that could teach children life skills but there has been some controversy involved with this game over the years. When the game was first released, it was not well censored.

Sims Trailer

When players develop relationships with each other, it is possible for that connection to progress into a sexual one. In the current version, when this occurs, the act is blurred out so nothing can be seen, However, in the original version, this censorship did not exist. There was also a recent “bug” that caused this suppression to fail. The culprit was likely one of the people who have been asking Google, “How do I take the censor off?” Apparently, there is a “Nude Patch” that players can download to be able to permit their Sims to bear it all (for whatever reason). Needless to say, this is the sort of loss of innocence in the common child is exactly what Stearns describes when he says, “…parents worried deeply, if not always effectively, about their degree of control over the entertainment their children received, and about the appropriateness of the entertainment offered.” (Course Packet p. 6)

“Players can allow public nudity, fondling of partners’ buttocks while kissing (both of the same and opposite sex), characters burning to death, and even polygamy (a male can marry numerous females, but a female can marry only one man). Could this game be teaching sexism?”

Appropriateness aside, The Sims continues to maintain popularity from girls and boys of all ages. The have since released multiple Sims continuation games including House Party, Unleashed, Hot Date, Vacation, and Superstar. The franchise has sold more than 100 million copies and I’m not ashamed to admit I am the face of 3 of those!

Bringing Up Baby

Tom Ashbrook’s show On Point challenges the notion that there are universals in parenting in last Tuesday’s episode, “Bringing Up Baby.” He interviewed Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, and developmental psychologist, Jennifer Lansford.

The French focus on a balance between parenting and being adults. According to Druckerman, parents interfere less with their child’s experiences, believing that “kids and adults need space and privacy to cultivate their inner lives.”

Peter Stearns, in the chapter from Anxious Parents entitled “I’m Bored”, explains how much of modern American parenting is a response to children’s boredom and the guilt felt by parents to entertain them.

"It was so easy to think of food as a legitimate reward for being a child when a parent was too busy to offer more elaborate entertainments or felt guilty about not having enough time to spend." (p. 25) (click for source)

Druckerman’s discussion of children’s food made me reflect on my childhood. My poor mom must have had such a hard task pleasing my very picky sister and me. She likes to joke that always if one of us liked a meal, the other wouldn’t. Druckerman says that there are no kids foods in France. Kids inevitably won’t like every food they’re given, so parents just require them to taste the food. The American way, in contrast, is indulgence. Peter Stearns, in his book Anxious Parents, argues, “Tolerance of children’s eating habits… resulted from the real commitment to providing pleasure” (p. 25). In other words, eating is another way to entertain kids.

The perceived frailty of American children is discussed both by Druckerman and Stearn. Druckerman says that French children are more autonomous, and French parents are more comfortable setting boundaries.

Childrearing beliefs are strongly tied to the culture they are found in. I think Stearn’s observation of parents’ obsession with entertaining their children are reflected in our society’s own entertainment consumption habits among adults.

America Needs To Be Scrooged

When loving middle and upper-class parents decide to satisfy every material desire of their offspring around the holidays, they are also seizing an opportunity to show off their hard-earned wealth to friends and neighbors. How else would a well-to-do businessman let everyone know how hard he has worked other than showering his kids with the latest and greatest toys money can buy during the time of year when indulgence and consumption are as prevalent as chilly weather?

Gary Cross asserts that the holiday spirit of giving is only a veil that covers the true motives behind excessive consumption during the holidays.  Parents spoil their children on Christmas to display the “personal affluence” that the American dream explicitly offers (59). The desire to display wealth and success is an innate characteristic of people living in affluent communities.  While there might be many reasons behind a rich man buying a flashy car, it can always be assumed that because he doesn’t buy a modest car, he wants to look rich.  But parents can’t constantly allow their children to indulge in an endless supply of toys; that would look sinful.  Parents use the loophole commonly known as Christmas to achieve their desire to display wealth without seeming vicarious, simply because everyone else does it.  The idea that Christmas is a time for “eating, drinking, and loafing” plays into the idea that spoiling children during the holidays is socially acceptable (59).

The argument in which this assertion is being made, however, is not black and white.  While I advocate Cross’ belief that parents spoil their children on Christmas for the sake of an affluent appearance, I am not saying that a wealthy father can’t buy his daughter the finest doll on the market only because he loves her.  But Cross’ argument is a generalization that is meant to pertain to society as a whole. Within the masses of affluent people in this country who give tons of gifts to their children for the sake of appearance lies a pocket of parents who give for love and for love only.  These individuals have been, what a Bill Murray fan might call, Scrooged; individuals who, due to particular experiences and circumstances, give for the sake of giving.  From this one can conclude that an ideal society contains a significant amount of Scrooged parents and a much smaller population of those who give for the sake of appearances.

Parents in Films and Parents at Home

According to the article Parents Under Pressure in Films (Rebecca Keegan, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 2012), “parenting – specifically parental guilt and anxiety – is the subtext of a surprisingly large number of the year-end and awards-season movies”. Parents have always been a subject of interest for filmmakers, and the resulting movies have always spoken of the time in which they were created. The “hyper-self-critical, stressed-out parents” of today’s movies reflect a “culture of self-conscious child-rearing”. This is, of course, because of a societal shift in ideas of parenting. Back in the day, parents based their techniques on their own upbringing and on instincts. Today people think, analyze, and worry much more about parenting. In today’s movies, often mothers are out of the picture and fathers are portrayed as inadequate. In one such movie, 2011’s  “The Descendants”, a father has to deal with his problematic daughters while his wife is in a coma. Kaui Hart Hemmings, author of the novel “The Descendants” says of parenting,

“My grandfather would come home and have his martini hour and engage with his kids, but then he clocked out as a parent. You don’t do that anymore. I joined this mothers group, and it was just sort of this absurd culture to me. I was overwhelmed by parenting…. The focus on having the right things and what are they eating … lactation consultants, crib consultants, I swear to God there are curtain consultants. Parenting has become this whole other culture.”

Other recent movies speaking of failed parenting or parent/child relationships include “We Bought A Zoo”, “Carnage”, and “We Need To Talk About Kevin”. The main emotion that can be gleaned from these movies is guilt over parenting and how it should (or should not) be done.

This article connects to the “Anxious Parents” reading (Peter Stearns) in the course reader in that both talk about the shifting views on and anxiety around parenting. Stearns writes that the 20th century was “a century of anxiety about the child and about parents’ own adequacy”, a phenomenon which is clearly reflected in these recent films (2). Stearns also writes that children were seen as more vulnerable, fragile, and in need of protection (3).  Parents feel that they have little control over who and what influences their children, and often believe that children will act out the images they like or are influenced by, which generates more concern about parenting (10).  Also, issues such as new technology/consumer products, fears of diseases, and changes in family structure have caused parents to feel guilty about the environment in which they are raising children (3). Parents feel a huge sense of responsibility, and thus have anxieties about how they should treat their children.

These movies play to parents’ fears of bad parenting, but simultaneously alleviate guilt by showing that other parents are also not perfect.

(Below, Trailer for “The Descendants”, 2011)

Christmas: Is It Really About the Children?

I believe Cross’ argument about the true meaning of Christmas gifts for children. Today, Christmas gifts are not necessarily about making the child happy, or giving them the toy they’ve been waiting for all year; it’s about keeping up with the Jones’ and making sure everyone in the neighborhood knows that you are wealthy and financially stable enough to give your family everything they want and more. Of course,  children will ask for lots of things, but many parents choose each year to get their children any and everything their child could even think to ask for.

Although it’s not blatantly stated in the Sega Genesis commercial below, it’s subconsciously telling the consumer (usually a parent) that if they get this gaming system, they will be the most popular household in the neighborhood, and it will signal to all the other parents that they are the most affluent ones on the block. The children will see the new gaming system, then go home to their parents and ask why they don’t have one. In an attempt to keep the love of the child, and show off to the neighborhood, the parent will usually go get the gaming system and a variety of games, thus signaling to the rest of the neighborhood that they too are wealthy.

Plenty of emphasis is placed on who has the most money, and who is living the best life these days. While it is considered crass to simply spend money on yourself and show off with your own personal items, it is seen as socially acceptable to bestow unnecessary gifts on children, so that they can do the bragging for you. That is what Christmas has come to mean.

Modern Christmas

In Gary Cross’ “Modern Children, Modern Toys” chapter, he shares his thesis that Christmas giving provides an opportunity for modern parents to show off their wealth and spoil their children without coming off self-indulgent over-spenders. (59) In today’s modern society, Cross’ thesis still holds true, as many modern parents continue to feel obligated to spoil their children through Christmas gifts, often because they feel driven to keep up with the gift giving of their friends, families, or co-workers.  The media leads modern parents to believe that their role in the Christmas festivities is to indulge their children’s desires and parents who do not fear being seen as lesser parents than their peers.  The expectations of gift giving in American culture are hard to combat, as many bloggers have shown the excess to which modern parents are spoiling their children because of culture pressures.   One blogger claims that the average American parent spends up to seven hundred fifty dollars each year on Christmas gifts.  Perhaps the most driving point is the fact that some gaming consoles have sold for as high as 30,000 dollars on EBay in the pre-holiday rush.  With parents spending in excess for consoles that might normally be in the 300-dollar range, it becomes clear that some modern parents feel the need to constantly strive for the best gifts to keep their kids in touch with the most up-to-date popular culture.  Cross even claims that “Christmas had long given permission to extravagance” (59), emphasizing the point that parents feel the need to bombard their children with extravagant gift giving each December. With the added pressure given by the media in commercials and television, parents are constantly coerced into upping the Christmas giving each year. The Kmart commercial from 2010, in particular, emphasizes a large amount of gifts and even places the family in a setting in which they’re surrounded by other parents to impress. Kmart tries to make the excessive gift giving affordable in their advertisement, in order to give all parents a chance to impress their friends through gift giving. Trying to represent the ideal situation, parents then continue to purchase excesses of Christmas gifts and are able to show off their love for their child to all their friends through the seemingly excessive spending. Through examinations in blogs and commercial ads, it becomes clear that Cross’ thesis about the desire to spoil children during the holidays as a means of emphasizing economic stances is still present in modern-day gift giving.