The Hidden Parent
By Marwa Sabry
In a kindergarten class in an Islamic school, the teacher asked the students what they want to be when they grow up. A little girl’s hand shot up in the air, “When I grow up I want to be a Power-Puff Girl”. A boy shouted: “I want to be a Spiderman”. Years ago, people were used to hear, “I want to be like my mother,” or, “I want to be like my father.” Nowadays, there is another parent behind the screen influencing our children.
The average American child watches 28 hours of TV weekly. This concludes that she spends more than one day a week facing the screen. Television is an affordable baby sitter and it works well with today’s busy life style. Kids can hardly get bored of flipping channels; there are just too many of them. The sad part is that most media makers (cartoonists included) work without the children’s interests in mind.
Children assess what is real on TV and what is not based on what they know about both, television and the world. By age three, children realize that they can not control what is behind the screen. Between three and four, they realize that the TV world and theirs are two different worlds. All the same, children imitate what they see in the magic window and learn from its heroes.
” Spiderman, Batman, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, you name it, kids want to dress up like those cartoon characters”, notes Marwa Afifi, a kindergarten teacher and a mother of two,” these figures are sources of joy for children. Problem rises when kids apply the wrong scenes. Boys like to copy the prince in the “Sleeping Beauty” and girls love to be her.”
Islam teaches us great values such as obeying Allah and parents, respecting the elders, compassion and caring for the younger. Cartoons overlook all the above and more. Lion King and Little Mermaid are examples of becoming heroes by disregarding rules.
Cartoon and Violence
(47% of violent television programs show the victim going unharmed, especially in cartoons.
• 73% of individuals who commit crimes in cartoons and children's shows go unpunished in violent
• Violence is a good way to solve problems in cartoon
• Television creates heroes out of the people who commit the crimes
• Television reduces the value of life
• Children cannot tell the difference between real and unreal)
Cartoon often offers an intense amount of violence as a resolution to problems. Bullies often go free in movies with no remorse or consequences. If you can not think of an example, look closely at the famous Tom and Jerry! They are always knocking each other down; they use explosives, and damage things just for the children to see that everything is back to normal in the following scene.
Another example is the popular “Power Rangers”. The movie includes 200 violent movements in an hour that the broadcasters in Canada stopped airing it in the mid-1990s. Sorry to say, the Canadian child can still view it through the American channels.
A shocking study by television researchers Bandura and Ross was done to test the effects of Television violence on kids. They formed two groups of children and showed group A, a girl hitting a doll while group B watched the same girl playing tea party with the same doll. The researchers later gave a similar doll to the two groups. Group A abused the doll while group B gently played with it.
Cartoon characters are created in such a sweet way that we as parents may overlook their negative behavior. For instance, Science proved with no doubt the harmful results of smoking and drinking but, in cartoon even the good guys smoke but for some reason they tend to smoke pipes while the bad guys tend to smoke cigars and cigarettes as in 101 Dalmatians. With unintended permission, media makers prematurely expose children to topics that parents assume they reserve the right to cautiously approach when their children are ready. Without adults around to guide and explain, the long-term outcome of this exposure to the wrong doings might fade the line between right and wrong.
Miral Maamoun, an M.D. and a mother of four, has her own rules for TV: “I make sure my kids have their father and I as role models. I watch my kids and know what they are exposed to. I only allow TV on the weekend. I eliminate movies with violence. My kids have favorite characters but I make sure those characters stay behind the television’s monitor.”
Are all kids cartoon bad for them?
There are very decent human-like cartoon characters out there and they are not hard to find. Berenstein Bears, Dora the Explorer, Caillou and Franklin, are just some of the cartoon figures that may be good teachers for our children. They get in child-friendly troubles and the solutions are parent-friendly solutions.
Linda A. Silvius, a former teacher and a current school coordinator for Project Cornerstone, a project aimed for raising better children, explains: “if cartoons present positive images of children - and positive images of adults to children, it can not help but have a positive impact - and the reverse, is also true.”
When I asked Malak, a three year old fan of “Dora the Explorer”, why she loves Dora, she said, “I love Dora because I love her so much”.
Kids cannot help but getting attached to what they are exposed to without knowing the reason. It is their innocence and cute curiosity that ties them to whoever offers them knowledge; whether it is positive or negative.
Engaging kids in various natural activities away from the electronic parent can be a bit challenging but rewarding. Here are some suggestions to limit or eliminate the electronic parent:
• Spend time with the kids instead of spending time around the kids. Being in the same room is not enough.
• If your child attends school, ask about her day and get as much details as possible in a friendly way.
• Televisions, play stations, and computers should not be part of kids’ rooms.
• Read one verse of the Qur’an everyday and tell the story behind it in your most lively way.
• A nice trip to the library can load your kids with hours of fun. If the cybernetic parent is forced to remain off, books will slowly take over.
• Public libraries are full of books on tapes. It is a good substitute to television and not as addictive.
• Keep papers, colors, glue, and scissors where kids can reach them. After all, cleaning a mess is a reasonable price for having creative kids.
• Never assume that a certain episode is safe without checking. (For more information and for movie rating, check www.parentstv.org and www.kids-in-mind.com.
Kids should be able to live without television, if not then it’s our duty to teach them to critique and analyze. When the electronic parent is on, human parents should not let go of the steering wheel or in this case, the remote control.
©Marwa Sabry, 2009