Are you a parent, like me, who’s done a lot of soul-searching about the role and life of media in your family’s and child’s life?
If the answer to that question is “yes,” then you’ll definitely want to read this review of Media Talk 101‘s “Captivated” DVD. We received a copy of this documentary DVD to watch and review from the Schoolhouse Review Crew. It’s intended primarily for adults, but we’ve watched it together as a family (Jackson is 12). I have often thought about that question, and others:
- How much computer time should I allow my child to have?
- What about video games?
- What about addiction to gaming or computers?
- Is there a healthy way to use media?
Even before we had children, my husband and I noticed a new phenomenon not too long after we got married. When we would go out to dinner, we noticed that families would be sitting together, yet the teens, instead of chatting with their parents or their siblings, would be texting. That seemed so sad to us! And we began to notice this more and more; that children and teens, rather than engaging with each other or with their families, were busy playing games or texting. We noticed certain children coming over to play, and then getting “bored” with playing imaginative games outside or building with Legos….and we discovered that these same kids had a constant diet of gaming. We heard speakers talk about video game addiction, and we saw young people spend their free time online.
Philip Telford, founder of Media Talk 101, noticed the same thing. He’s traveled around the U.S. and spoken to groups, and he saw that heavy media use was not only becoming frequent and almost a given in many families’ lives…..but it had the potential to become an enormous detractor, for babies, toddlers, children, teens, and parents. The technological and digital explosion in our country has been so rapid. I think in many ways parents are always trying to catch up. And while we are so busy managing our jobs, our households, our children’s educations and whatever time is left over for play, there isn’t a lot of time for many people to actually think through the questions I listed above.
Fortunately, Philip Telford has done that for us.
In his fascinating documentary, “Captivated,” he’s assembled a group of notable professionals in a number of fields who share their expertise and research on media use, media addiction, and lifestyle…and how all of these impact our families, our children and ourselves. Here are a few of my favorite speakers from the film:
- Dr. Jeff Myers, Summit Ministries
- Dr. Dimitri Christakis, Seattle Children’s Medical Center
- Mark Bauerlein, author and professor at Princeton University and Emory University
- Phil Chalmers, author and speaker
- Ted Baehr, Movieguide
I think that many parents are concerned about this. What influence will the digital age have on our children? Will the time they spend online harm them or help them? Should we allow gaming or should we prohibit it altogether? Should we get our children cell phones…and when? What kinds of effects do violence in movies or video games have? And what about social media?
These are not easily-answered questions. This is not a simple cause-and-effect parenting decision, like knowing we need to serve lots of fruits and vegetables or making sure our children brush and floss their teeth. The use of technology in our homes and lives has grown exponentially since the 1950’s. But how do we make decisions about what is good for our family, with this media phenomenon that is relatively new to the human race?
Media Talk 101’s excellent documentary “Captivated” addresses these questions. Produced from a definite Christian perspective, the producers, cast and media experts share not only their own personal experiences with media but the latest data on technology use—and the implications and conclusions about it that we can draw for our own lives and our families’ lives.
Here are some media use statistics that you might be shocked at:
- 10% of children are actually addicted to video games
- The average teen receives and sends 3339 text messages in a month
- The average American child spends 53 hours per week consuming media (television, video gaming, social media, texting)
- By the time the average child graduates from high school, he’ll have watched 18,000-22,000 hours of television (that means more hours in front of the TV than in a classroom!)
The key for parents to remember is that while technology can be enormously beneficial, it is not benign, nor is it always helpful. Media use affects the brain and even trains it! Dr. Christiakis and other researchers found that the more television children watched before age 3, the shorter their attention spans were when they started school. Pediatricians have recommended for some time that children watch no TV at all before age 2. On the contrary, researchers discovered that the more parents read to their children, took them to museums, sang to them, the less likely the children were to have shorter attention spans later in life. Apparently humans’ brains are hard-wired to pay attention to things that move. We develop a reactive attention span and a focused attention span….which of course are strengthened and built when we do very different activities. Guess which one of these is fed and increased by media use? Yes, the reactive attention span is!
So we can learn that media use really does influence us. Not only our brains, but our time, our habits, our appetites and our relationships. As parents, I believe we truly must take the time to evaluate what we and our children are doing with media. That’s not only the thing we have to consider, as researchers have found not only a connection between extended online use and childhood obesity, poor sleep and early carpal tunnel syndrome; but even that sometimes children’s decreased attention spans have been diagnosed as ADHD. (Remember, I am NOT a physician, nor I am saying that all diagnoses of ADHD are derived from heavy media use. I’m relating what I’ve learned from the documentary.)
While those physical symptoms are sobering, I am personally more concerned about the emotional and relational costs. What happens to a child’s or a person’s ability to have healthy relationships, when so much of their time is spent not engaging with another person but with a digital device?
Before I watched “Captivated,” this thought had never occurred to me. But suddenly I’ve realized that every moment or hour that we spend on media, whether it’s television, social media, the computer or video games, is time that is taken away from something else. What am I missing out on in my relationships, with my family and child, in other worthwhile activities when I’m engaged with media?
Another surprising thought that “Captivated” brought to my mind was regarding God. Does my use of media affect my relationship with Him? Does it impede my ability to hear Him, or impede that relationship in any way?
A number of families and individuals featured in “Captivated” took some hard looks at those questions. One thing several of them decided to try was to embark on a media fast; where for a certain period of time (a week, a month, or whatever) they put away their tablets, music, video games, etc. And no, the kids were not excited about the fast at the outset! A key part of this decision was that families discussed it together and embarked on it together; and the parents were very intentional about filling the time that would have been spent on media with exciting and fun activities. Playing games together; building things; cooking together; reading. Every single one of these family members and young people interviewed spoke of the peace they found; the stillness; and how sweet that was. The children even were shocked at how addicted to media they actually were. Families grew, individuals grew, interests both broadened and deepened.
“Captivated” also reminds us that we must take a look at violence in media. Of course, it’s not only in movies and television shows, but in video games. Tim Winter, president of the Parents’ Television Council, believes that what we watch DOES affect what we do. He says, “Prolonged exposure to graphic violence in the media does a few things. Number 1, it makes kids more desensitized toward real violence. Number 2, it creates a bullying effect; that they see violence as a real way to resolve a dispute. Third thing is that it creates an unreasonable fear in a child of their circumstances, that the world around them is more dangerous than it is, and they behave differently because of it.” Now isn’t that fascinating? In all the discussions about bullying that I’ve read or watched, I have never seen this specific connection being made.
I think that the purpose of “Captivated” is to help families and individuals take a serious look at how media affects us; and to present research and information that we may not have easy access to, about the positive and negative effects that media usage has on us. And then, to encourage families to make healthy decisions about media and its place in our lives. They also include several hours of bonus features with the experts interviewed, that include more information that we can take in and use as we make decisions about our media use. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the film:
- “We tell them that our appetites as human beings are trained. You have been trained to live on a diet of technology, of media. And if what you’re seeking from that diet of media and technology is contentment, peace, significance, identity…(it) will never give you those things.” Trace Embry, Director of Shepherd’s Hill Academy
- “In my studies, I find that there are two people who don’t think violent media doesn’t impact them. It’s the people who are totally addicted to the violent media, and those who sell it.” Phil Chalmers
- “The corrosive influence (of the media)….can be countered by the godly unit of the family learning to be worshipful and media-wise…taking every thought captive to the cause of Christ.” Ted Baehr
I know that all of our readers don’t subscribe to a Christian mindset. But so many of the principles, ideas and all of the research are actually applicable to all families. I think there is a lot we can agree on from “Captivated:”
- Our children are precious to us and we will only have them in our homes for a short season, before they head out into the world
- We want to bless them and equip them for the challenges of life during the time they are under our care
So, we need to truly understand the benefits and challenges–and potential damages–of media. We want technology to bless our families, not harm them. Let me encourage you to check out this documentary. Learn about how we can interact with media in a healthy way. Make decisions about what is okay for your family, and what is not—and hold to that. Create exciting and fun things to do together in place of using media. Even try a media fast, and see if your conclusions are any different after that!
Our family is taking what we’ve learned from “Captivated” very seriously. We’re learning that media IS very captivating. You can plan to just use it a little, and before you know it you’ve spent hours on gaming, browsing the internet, watching movies. We’ve never used a lot of media, but as Jackson has gotten older we’ve allowed him to do more—playing video games, looking at Lego websites online, and so forth. I recently was blessed to win a Kindle Fire from The Old Schoolhouse magazine, and before I received it my prayer was that it would be a blessing to our family, and not a detractor. As a parent I have to examine my own use of media; my example that I set for my son; and how I am spending my time before I speak to Jackson about what he does and what we allow him to do. My husband and I are making intentional decisions about our media use as a family; which I believe will produce great rewards. As “Captivated” says, we want to teach our son to guard his heart. To treasure it, and to carefully discern what is good to put into it, and to turn away from the things that aren’t good. And you know what? As one young woman says in the DVD, the stillness, when we turn off the media, is sweet. Our card games, board games (it’s still not warm enough yet to play a lot outside) and times of talking together are sweet. And I can see with my own eyes the needs in the little heart that are being met by relational time, as opposed to screen time.
Jeff Myers says that when you unplug your devices in your home, “you’ll find you actually talk. You’ll find a sense of peace. Instead of being stimulated in nervous system. And that your kids are smarter too… (you’ll find) peace in the home, communication, intelligence, …all these things will be restored.” Isn’t that worth checking out?
Please know that I am not anti-media. But I deeply desire to use it wisely..and to teach my son to do the same….to exercise wisdom and discernment in all we do with media. I am still learning, but “Captivated” has been a wonderful tool and has really helped us to look at the questions we need to be asking. I definitely recommend it!