Kids on TV: Adventurous or In Danger? (Depends on What You Watch)

Hi Readers! This little note just got me thinking. Read it and I’ll give you my thoughts. It’s from a guy named Barry Jacobs in Brooklyn and here’s his blog. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I hate the media. Watch shows aimed at kids on Nickelodeon or Disney– they show kids with amazing imaginations, doing things with unbelievable freedom, having exciting adventures and almost always being smarter than the adults. When parents are shown, they are usually genial characters with vague, but obeyed, authority.

Compare that to the network news aimed at adults: Kids are stupid and need to be watched 24/7 or they will stick all ten fingers in electrical sockets.

No wonder society is so screwed up! We tell the kids one thing and the parents something else. — Barry

Lenore here. I think there’s even another angle: Sure, Disney and Nickelodeon  SHOW kids having adventures. But the networks really exist to keep kids SITTING ON THE COUCH.  So their aim, in the end, is the same as the news shows’: Keep everyone inside, watching the screen.

And in the end, much as I hate the “if it bleed, it leads” mandate of the news shows, it irks me even more that Disney and Nickelodeon and even PBS purport to celebrate an active and  imagination-filled childhood while actually working to undermine it, by feeding kids a constant diet of crack. Er…kiddie shows. (And let’s not even get into the fact that almost all of those shows have product tie-ins — Disney supposedly sells 40,000 different princess items. So they are basically out to capture our kids’ imagination, money and childhood. ) But otherwise, they’re great. — Lenore

have adventures! “] have great adventures!”] have great adventures!”]

You Mean We SHOULDN’T Mow the Lawn When Kids Are Playing On It?

Hi Readers — Here’s a note I liked, with a caveat. I actually don’t think it is all that dumb for the media to remind parents about basic safety, as they do in the story below: “Don’t mow the lawn with kids nearby.”  This is a fine thing to  point out from time time, just like, “Don’t let your kids play in the pool without adult supervision,” “Don’t speed through yellow lights,” and,  “Keep your space heater away from the drapes,” etc., etc.

What I object to is the way these otherwise possibly helpful tidbits are played out on TV:  We viewers are invariably shown, by dint of TV protocol,  an anguished relative.

Hey, media moguls! We understand the point WITHOUT you trotting out a family member in the throes of grief.  So why are they always part of the story? Simple!  They’re great for ratings! The person looks tormented, the anchor looks sympathetic, and somehow this is all considered quite proper.

Even though it’s really grief porn.

Anyway, here’s the letter that prompted my musings. Stay safe! — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: I don’t really mean to watch Good Morning America, but I stop by an elderly neighbor’s every morning to check on her and drop off our joint-custody rescue mutt, and she is a morning TV fan, so I just can’t help myself. Anyway, today was yet another “The Kids Are All Gonna Die!” classic, as part of their Summer Safety series. The point: small children and lawnmowers are a bad combination.

Stop The Presses! The segment opened with George Stephanopoulos in a suburban yard in his white shirt and tie, looking for some reason like a  stuffed jackass penguin (that’s a real species) who somehow wandered off  a museum’s  diorama. George assured us that lawnmowers — especially riding lawnmowers that can mow in reverse — are very dangerous to children. Shift to female Twinkie, earnest blonde version, who breathlessly revealed that every year 37,000 children (much softer “and adults”) go to the emergency room with lawn-mowing related injuries.

Then they did video clips of two little boys who actually got run over by a riding lawnmower driven in reverse by a relative: “One of them made it but one of them didn’t.”

Short interviews with anguished relatives, one of whom is going to form some kind of foundation to push for laws and regulations to make sure this tragedy never happens again. (Oh, by the way, the Twinkie mentions as an aside, all riding mowers sold since 2004 can’t mow in reverse. But there are millions of old lawnmowers out there.)

Close segment with interview with child safety expert who advises that we shouldn’t really mow the yard when the kids are out there playing.

Gee, ya think? That never would have occurred to me — I operate dangerous power equipment around small children all the time and I’ve only had a few fatal accidents. (Well, actually, if the kids come out while I’m mowing my friend’s yard, I shut off the mower and take a break until their mom comes out, but that might be because I’m smarter than George Stephanopoulos.)

End of story. Tune in tomorrow for: MORE DANGERS. –Jim Sherman

Whoa! Oh no! Mow slow!

Boy, 11, Saves Family! (So Why Won’t Many Folks Let 11-y.o.s Babysit?)

Hi Readers! Here’s a terrifying but wonderful story of what happened when a mom going about 55 miles an hour suddenly blacked out  — with her three kids in the car. Thank goodness one was a very smart, quick-thinking young man. Let’s remember the things our kids are capable of instead of treating them all like precious little dumb-dumbs.

Have a great week! — Lenore

TV on SCHOOL BUSES? Why Not Just Set Up A Deep-Fryer & Throw Kids’ Brains In?

Hi Readers — Here’s a post from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood about School Bus TV. The idea of kids being force-fed even MORE screen time just nauseates me. Fortunately, Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign, articulates the arguments against bus TV far better than my fake retching sounds. He also references his group’s successful 4-year fight against BusRadio, an equally appalling idea to pipe in radio — and ads —  to moppets riding the bus to school. —  L.

THE NEXT BUS RADIO? BY JOSH GOLIN

Haven’t we been down this road before? A few years ago, it was BusRadio promising to make school buses safer and calmer with its student-targeted radio broadcasts. Now it’s television that marketers claim will soothe the beast. From theDallas Morning News:

Television can be a ready baby sitter in the living room, but will it work on school buses?

The Garland school district is experimenting with playing educational videos on a school bus to help cut discipline problems.

For $1,500 per bus, Carrollton-based AdComp Systems installs a 26-inch flat screen TV at the front of the bus. The screen plays videos supplied by NASA, the Discovery network, History Channel and others.

The similarities between BusRadio – which closed its doors last September after a four-year campaign by CCFC and Obligation, Inc. – and Bus-Ed-Safe-TV (BEST) are striking. Like BusRadio, BEST is claiming it will improve student behavior and touting its plan to air safety messages and PSAs in its pitch to school districts, while downplaying its commercial content. The Dallas Morning News is even reporting that BEST will have no commercials.

Even if that were true, it’s still a terrible idea. At some point we’re going to need to stand up to the flat-screen invasion and the ubiquitous blaring TVs that compete for our attention and with our conversations at seemingly every turn. Since children 8-18 already spend 7.5 hours a day with media and excessive screen time is linked to poor school performance, keeping televisions off of school buses might be a good place to start.

And just as with BusRadio – which once boasted on its website for advertisers that it would “take targeted student marketing to the next level” – it’s clear the underlying purpose of BEST is to deliver a captive audience of students to advertisers. The BEST website includes a section of “ideal partnerships” which include “targeted content partners” and “commercial sponsorships.”

As for the claim there will be no commercials, the website says only that BEST won’t run “Direct commercial ads that parents can object to and are not good for kids” or air violence or sexually explicit material. That’s not setting the bar very high.

As we learned with BusRadio, it’s not just the content that parents object to – it’s the very business model of forcing children to consume media and marketing on a school bus. Before the BEST team proceeds any further, they should do their homework. They could start with the more than 1,000 comments that parents submitted to the FCC in opposition to BusRadio, or by reading how parents in Louisville, Montgomery County, and cities and towns around the country organized to keep the company out of their school districts. Because if BEST, like its failed predecessor, underestimates parents’ determination to keep their school buses commercial-free, it’s sure to be the next BusRadio. — J.G.

Take Our Children to the Editorial Cartoon Day

Hey Folks — What a treat! After artist Richard Estell saw this anti-Free-Range cartoon in the New York Daily News:

Estell drew a cartoon of his own. (Note what it says on the newspaper in the garbage: Homelessness – Not Funny.) Thanks, Richard!

by Richard Estell

From Our Friends at KaBOOM!

Hi Folks! Here’s a note from KaBOOM!, the non-profit dedicated to making sure there are playgrounds everywhere, and that kids actually get out and enjoy them.  Like “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day,” KaBOOM! has a week in September when it encourages communities to get all the kids outside, playing together. And now the community with the best plans for revamping a playground, or getting kids active, or creating community connectedness seems to be eligible for a grant, too. A biggie!

So here, without further ado, I present to you: KaBOOM! (a name with vaguely terrorist connotations, at least to this New Yorker, but what the hey. Too late to change it, I guess.) — L.

ORGANIZE A KABOOM! DAY

Hi Free-Rangers! — If you’re following this blog,  you already know how important play is to keeping children happy and healthy.  Play is in jeopardy across the country, and national non-profit KaBOOM! is dedicated to saving it. You can help, too!  To spread the word around the importance of play plan a KaBOOM! Play Day for the week of September 18-26th. KaBOOM! Play Days encourage communities to come together for fun activities and to improve local parks and playgrounds.

Last year, more than 1,250 communities in all 50 states and on all 7 continents (yes, even Antarctica) got together to celebrate a KaBOOM! Play Day. This year, the KaBOOM! Play Day program is presented by Mott’s.

KaBOOM! Play Days help communities:

  • Have fun! A KaBOOM! Play Day is about adults and kids coming together to have fun and enjoy games, fresh air, and good company.
  • Connect. Planning a Play Day strengthens community ties and gives participants a chance to meet and work together.
  • Improve your playground. Many KaBOOM! Play Day events include improvement projects, such as planting flowers or trees, building benches or picnic tables, painting murals, and much more!
  • Advocate for play. Play is on the decline. By participating in this program, you are joining a national movement and helping KaBOOM! spread the message that play is vital for America’s children.

Free-Rangers, parents, teachers and community leaders who want to get their kids outside and active can visit www.kaboom.org/playday to plan a Play Day in their community.   Once there, you’ll be able to choose games and activities, self-organize, recruit volunteers, invite attendees and receive event planning help.  When the events are over, stellar Play Day communities with the best improvement projects will be eligible for $25,000 in grants to help them further improve their local park or playground.

By hosting a KaBOOM! Play Day, you will not only ensure children in your community get out and play for an afternoon, but you can help make your local park or playground an inviting place, where families can spend time together for years to come. — Your friends a KaBoom!

Recent Tweets of Interesting Stuff!

Hi Readers! I know not everyone’s on Twitter, but I’m always posting little tidbits there that maybe aren’t big enough to warrant a whole blog post. So in case you missed ’em, here are some recent Tweets. (And if you want to join Twitter, just click here.) My tag, or screen name, whatever it’s called, is, of course, freerangekids. — Lenore

* 7th graders discover cool thing on Mars. (So why are they “too young” to do anything else, like stay home alone?) http://yhoo.it/9hx5po

* Brilliant Wall St. Journal piece by Bryan Caplan on how we don’t have to work so hard at parenting: http://bit.ly/bjsTcE

* My take on “Friendship Coaches” for kids. Because, you know, they get friendship all wrong without professional help.http://bit.ly/avsWyx

* Kids now have to be 12, not 10, at local pool (w/ lifeguard) without parent. That would’ve kept me inside 2 more yrs. http://bit.ly/cvVNuM

* GREAT San Fran essay: Can I leave my kids in the car when I run back into the house? (And why is this even a worry?): http://bit.ly/bNw1HR

* What you should REALLY be afraid of: A chart! (No, don’t be afraid OF the chart. It’s a chart of dangers.) http://bit.ly/cvjffb

And plenty more! — L.