Saturday, April 19, 2008

Getting a parental grip on media

The Internet played a frightening role in the recent attack by six teenage girls and two boys that took place in Lakeland, Florida. The assailants of 16-year-old Victoria Lindsay, a cheerleader, seemed to be inspired by the prospects of posting a video of the beating on the Internet.

The New York Times story about the assault referred to several media connections to the beating. Joan Rutkowski, my friend and colleague at Media Think, the Northwest media literacy center, has highlighted the following references made in The Times article.

- Authorities say the young assailants intended to use the attack to become Internet celebrities.
- The case should raise awareness about the Internet’s power to desensitize young people to violence, said one expert.
- The victim’s mother commented: “For whatever reason, this MySpace, my-you, this YouTube has gone too far. It’s just too much.”
- Her husband went even further, declaring that Internet companies were to blame for what happened. “As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “MySpace is the Antichrist for children.”

There's no doubt that parents — of potential perpetrators and potential victims — have a problem. Of course, the perpetrators are also victims — often of parental neglect.

Simply put, parents can not allow impressionable, unsupervised children to spend hours in an “alternate Internet universe” with norms that often encourage abusive, bullying or violent behavior. In one form or another, the video experience gets played out in the real world. Manifestations range from being inured or insensitive to violence to behaving violently.

The Florida attack seemed like an episode from a video "Lord of the Flies" desert island.

In our work with Media Think, Joan and I have heard parents vent their frustration at their inability to retrieve their kids from cyberspace. In response, Joan and I are preparing a discussion course to be offered through the community education program of Portland Community College this fall. If possible, we would like parents from the same elementary or middle school school to enroll the course. As was discovered too late in Lakeland, entire school communities must address this issue head-on. (By the way, next week is TV-Turnoff Week, an excellent time to begin.)

Here is how the course will be listed in the catalog:

The Media-Mindful Family:
Creating Alternatives to a Screen-Filled Childhood

Concerned about how media harms your child’s health, self-image, social life and school performance? Learn how to address media issues in your family and peer group through this practical, group-centered discussion course.

And here are some of the topics we hope to cover over the eight weekly sessions:

- Media: The Competing Parent and the Importance of Story
- Framing the Conversation with your Child: Principles of Media Literacy
- Social and Cultural Effects of Uncritical Media consumption
- Health Consequences
- Identity, Social Needs and Values in Cyberspace
- Cultivating Media Mindfulness at Home and in the Peer Community
- What’s Next: Networking and Staying Ahead of Media Change

If you know of any parents who might be interested, let me know. You can write me at

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