Mental Illness on Television

Posted on September 18, 2016 at 4:13 pm

Angelica Jade Bastién is one of my favorite critics, and her essays on film are always insightful and thought-provoking. For Vulture, she wrote about the increasingly sensitive and authentic portrayal of mental illness on television. And she calls out the still-too-frequent portrayal of mentally ill characters as serial killers, or quirky-but-wise, or even super-smart but flawed figures.

If you live with mental illness, a show like You’re the Worst is downright revelatory. During its first season, the FXX comedy introduced Edgar, a military veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. In its second season, the show revealed that its lead female character, Gretchen, has clinical depression. And in its third season, which premiered last week, Gretchen actively seeks treatment and begins seeing a therapist.

In a television landscape that often misunderstands and misrepresents mental illness, You’re the Worst isn’t alone. Thanks to shows like BoJack Horseman, Lady Dynamite, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, it’s now easier than ever to find moving portraits of mental illness on television — but on the whole, most shows still struggle with flawed, careless, and inaccurate depictions….By failing to offer a diagnosis, a show’s writers can cherry-pick a variety of symptoms, which ultimately creates a dishonest portrayal that hinges on plot needs. This often leads to confused characterization, or worse, an exploitative view of mental illness.

It does not have to be a serious drama to be true to the reality of mental illness. Bastién’s good examples include “You’re the Worst” and “Crazy-Ex Girlfriend.”

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Critics Disabilities and Different Abilities Television Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Do Babies Learn to Swipe Before They Learn to Talk?

Posted on June 2, 2016 at 3:14 pm

Personal cloud storage company MiMedia has released the results of a survey of parents.

76% of parents admit to running out of storage on their phones from taking too many photos/videos of their kids
71% think Moms take more photos of their kids than Dads
Nearly 3 out of 5 parents (58%) say their child (age 0-3) was able to operate a touchscreen digital device by swiping before they learned to speak
57% think Moms share too many baby photos on social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
Almost half (47%) of parents say their child (age 0-3) likes taking selfies
47% of parents share at least 1 photo/video on average of their child (age 0-3) per day, whereas 34% don’t share any
1 out of 3 parents (34% ) takes 1 video on average of their child (age 0-3) per day, whereas 13% of parents take 5+ videos on average of their child (age 0-3) per day
28% take 2 photos on average of their child (age 0-3) per day
Almost 1 out of 3 parents (28%) admits to taking substantially more photos of their first born than other children
22% of parents take 5+ photos on average of their child (age 0-3) per day
13% of parents take 5+ videos on average of their child (age 0-3) per day

Parents should be careful to make sure they are spending more time interacting with their children than taking pictures and videos of them — and that children learn about how to behave with people before they learn about how to interact with machines.

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Commentary Parenting Preschoolers Understanding Media and Pop Culture

What Screen Time Does to Developing Brains

Posted on September 2, 2015 at 3:55 pm

Copyright Stylus 2014
Copyright Stylus 2014

As kids go back to school, it’s a good time to establish some rules about screen time.  My recommended rules are below. This is increasingly important as kids are surrounded by screens everywhere — and by adults who themselves have a problem staying away from their own phones and tablets. Psychology Today has a sobering article on the impact of electronic media on kids, making them “angry, depressed, and unmotivated” and causing attention problems. The author, Victoria Dunkley, explores these issues in more depth in her book, Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time.

The Movie Mom’s recommended rules for families:

  • Screen time is a treat, not a right. It’s a good idea to make sure that it comes only after homework, chores, other kinds of play, and family time. Make sure there is some quiet time each day as well. The spirit is nourished by silence. All too often, we try to drown out our unsettled or lonely feelings in noise, instead of allowing them to resolve themselves. Just as important, the best and most meaningful family communication flourishes only in quiet.Plan with your child what he or she is going to watch. You might say something like, “We should have time for one hour of television today” or “Let’s pick something to watch on Sunday afternoon.” Then look at choices together or look through a movie guide to see the options and pick which ones you think are worthwhile. Try to avoid the “let’s see if there’s anything to watch” channel surf, which has a tendency to be numbing rather than engaging or relaxing. Distract the kids with crayons, books, or toys; not screens and digital media. Children spend more time with television and other media than they do in school or with their families — a full workweek of 35 hours a week or more. Most educators think that anything over two hours at that age takes too much time away from the important “work” of playing, learning to interact with others, learning to amuse themselves, and developing their imaginations.
  • Turn the devices off when the program is over, unless there is something else you planned to watch on next. This discourages the idea that we “watch screens” instead of watching particular programs.
  • Watch with the kids whenever possible, and comment on what you see. Encourage them to comment, too. “What do you think he will do next?” “She looks sad. I think they hurt her feelings.” “He’s having a hard time feeling good about himself, isn’t he?” “If you were that kid, what would you do?” “If someone said that to you, how would you feel?”
  • Look for positive role models for girls. Children’s shows produced for commercial networks tend to ignore girls. Producers are asked for shows with “boy appeal,” because the numbers show that girls will watch shows produced for boys, but boys won’t watch shows produced for girls. There is a lot of what I call “the Smurfette syndrome,” a reference to the cartoon show that features 99 highly varied male characters and one girl character, whose sole and defining characteristic was that she was a female. Whether you have daughters or sons, help them to be sensitive to these concerns, asking questions like, “Do you think it’s fair that there are no girls on that team?” “How come only the boys get to go on that adventure?” and commenting positively on good female role models: “She’s brave!” “That’s what I call persistence!”
  • Be alert for issues of race, religion, ethnicity, and class. The media tends to feature Dick and Jane, Ozzie and Harriet suburban families, where Dad works and Mom stays home and does housework and everyone is white and vaguely Christian. Non-whites are often portrayed condescendingly or stereotypically. Make sure your children know that there are many different kinds of families, races, and religions, and many different kinds of homes. Make an effort to be sure they see diverse families in what they watch.
  • Set a good example. Don’t let the kids see you veg out in front of devices, aimlessly surfing. Don’t tell them not to talk to you so you can watch some sitcom. Do let them see you reading, and enjoying what you read.
  • Don’t ever let anyone — parent, grandparent, sibling or friend — tell a child that a program or movie he or she wants to watch is “too babyish.” Respect children’s interest and affection for the shows they like, and their need to return to old comforts.
  • Make sure that children understand the difference between programs and commercials. Saturday morning cartoon commercials are particularly troublesome, with a sort of hip-hop precocity that shows grade-school kids acting like hyperactive mini-teenagers.
  • If you find that you have made a mistake and taken your children to a film that you find inappropriate, leave the theater. You can get your money back. And you communicate an important lesson to your children about your commitment to protecting them. The same is true, of course, for any media brought into the home.
  • Do not be shy about setting television limits with babysitters, friends’ parents, or grandparents. Never leave your children with anyone without being clear about your rules.
  • Be careful with tie-ins, especially cartoons based on movie characters. Just because a Saturday morning cartoon like “Spider-Man” or some fast food gizmo is geared for children does not mean that the associated movie is appropriate for them as well.
  • Use movies as a starting point for developing interests. Go to the library to check out a book or video relating to what you have seen. Read the newspaper for stories relating to what you have seen. Make a craft project inspired by the show. (“Can you draw Mickey carrying the buckets of water?” “Let’s try to find where Indiana Jones went on a map.”)
  • When in doubt, turn it off. Remember that there is no reason to watch any device unless you genuinely feel it is the best use of your child’s time.
  • Every month or so, try a “screen diet” day without any devices at all, and use the extra time for special family activities.
  • When an older sibling is watching media that is not appropriate for a younger child, make sure the younger child has an appealing alternative. It’s a good time for you to do something special together, even if it is just sorting laundry or setting the table.
  • Establish strict limits on viewing, but try not to use limits as a punishment, unless the offense relates to media itself (watching without permission, for example) or time management (“If you don’t finish cleaning up by 3:00, you won’t have time to watch the movie.”) This reinforces the message that we make decisions about media based only on the merits of the shows.
  • Let them know why you like (or don’t like) particular shows. Try not to say that something is “too old” for them, as this will just make them more interested in seeing what it is about. Sometimes it works better to say (truthfully) that it is “too stupid.” Compare it to food; some shows are like healthful food, some are like candy, some are like poison. Model good media behavior yourself. Don’t keep it on as background noise. Don’t watch anything you don’t want them to see if they are around (you’d be amazed — and appalled — at what a three-year-old can pick up).
  • No devices in a child’s bedroom, unless he or she is sick in bed. It is not only isolating, but it makes establishing limits impossible.
  • Never, never, never have media on during family meals. That is your most precious time to share the day’s experiences, challenges, and thoughts, and to let children know how important they are to you. The same goes for rides in the car, minivan, or RV.
  • Watch what you enjoy and enjoy what you watch together. Make these among your most precious family connections and memories.
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Commentary Parenting Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Pediatricians Say Kids Spend Too Much Time Watching Media

Posted on October 28, 2013 at 9:27 pm

kid-watching-tvKids spend too much time staring at screens according to recommendations released today from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“The average 8-year-old spends eight hours a day using various forms of media, and teenagers often surpass 11 hours of media consumption daily, according to the authors of the AAP statement. More than three quarters of teenagers have cell phones, and teens ages 13 to 17 send an average of 3,364 texts per month. Several studies have linked high media consumption with poor health outcomes. For example, children with TVs in their bedrooms are more likely to be obese.”

I strongly endorse the recommendation to limit media to no more than two hours a day (with non for children under two) and never, ever in the child’s bedroom.  I’d add: never, ever during meals or in car trips of less than an hour.

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Parenting Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Some Scary Facts to Follow Screen-Free Week

Posted on May 7, 2013 at 3:59 pm

For a look at the scope and consequences of today’s media-saturated culture on children, check out these charts and an article from Utne about the impact of nonstop corporate marketing through kids’ media.

Marketing affects what children want to eat, wear, and play, and with whom they play. It also shapes what they learn, what they want to learn, and why they want to learn. And it primes them to be drawn into, exploited, and influenced by marketing efforts in schools.

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Marketing to Kids Parenting Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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