Coming soon to a living room near you is Screen-Free Week (formerly TV Turn-Off Week), sponsored by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Please click here for a plethora of resources to help your family unplug! While this is an initiative that largely has to be undertaken at home, we support limiting time with the bunk boxes and will be sending home materials through the classrooms.
Since deregulation during the Reagan era, children are exposed to exponentially more and more visual media aimed at influencing them to engage in the consumer culture. The average middle school student likely spends at least seven hours a day in front of a screen, and because kids are often engaged with more than one media device at once, or “multitasking,” they are really packing almost eleven hours of media exposure into those seven hours. Statistically, African-American and Hispanic kids clock in rates of four hours more than that average. This is more time than a full-time job. According to TV-Free America, the average child sees 20,000 30-second commercials in a year, though the American Academy of Pediatrics, the AAP, suggest it’s probably more like 40,000. I found those numbers a little bit shocking, even as someone who did put in my daily seven as a kid. However, in spite of this proliferation, I have seen very little in the curriculum to help children interpret what they see or even foster an awareness that they are being targeted or influenced.
Here in the library, screens are a tool, and like any tool, people need to learn how to use it. Rather than focusing on turning screens off, I concentrate heavily on teaching Media Literacy, Cybersafety and Citizenship, especially in the middle school. This year, in eighth grade, we have been working on a unit to help students use critical thinking to decode the many messages they encounter on screens, via an in-depth study of propaganda techniques, commercials and advertising through history. This is a subject very close to my heart, as my own fifth grade teachers took it upon themselves to teach me to recognize propaganda techniques, and it changed the way I looked at the world ever since. Children deserve this knowledge, so they can make informed decisions as consumers and so they can make decisions about their own identities, which these days is increasingly entangled in our consumer choices.
Whether the screen is on or off, I hope the library will be a place for reflection, information and active citizenship!