Article: Character and Kids in a Digital Media World

 

digital_character

Build Character Strengths with Quality Media

How to support kids’ character and life-skills development through media — and parenting. By Caroline Knorr

How to support kids’ character and life-skills development through media — and parenting.

Every parent wants to raise kids with strong character. Grateful, humble, compassionate, brave: We know these strengths lead to improved well-being, better relationships, and sound communities.

Still, figuring out which characteristics to teach, how to reinforce them, and even whose job it is to do it (parent, teacher, coach?) is a thorny issue. And when kids are spending several hours a day glued to a screen — possibly on a personal device with earbuds in — it can be difficult to find opportunities to reinforce character lessons. Here’s the good news: Media — from video games to TV shows to movies — can help teach character. But it doesn’t just happen. Parents have to make it happen by choosing quality media, focusing on character-building ideas, and talking about the messages.

You’re probably already doing some of this, by watching TV with your kid and asking why a character made certain choices; playing a video game and helping your kid learn to take turns and be a good sport; and discussing responsible online behavior.

You’re on the right track. The days of simply restricting kids’ media use for fear that it hinders character growth are over. With kids using media for everything from playtime to learning to creating to communicating, it’s essential that parents use these opportunities to strengthen kids’ social-emotional development.

Why It Matters

In today’s digital world, many parents worry about the loss of character as more kids spend time alone on a computer or communicating through a screen. But research shows that kids can and do learn from media — what matters is which messages they’re absorbing and how those messages get reinforced.

Whether it’s from a preschool show about sharing or a teen video game about war, lessons about character can positively affect kids’ behavior and self-esteem. Most importantly, parents who are involved in their kids’ media lives — parents who co-view, co-play, and talk about TV shows, movies, books, and games — reinforce their own values as well as the media’s pro-social messages.

Character-Trait and Life-Skills Media Advice by Age

As former FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson put it, “All television is educational television. The question is, what is it teaching?” You can apply this question to all media. By choosing shows, movies, apps, games, and books geared toward your kid’s age and developmental stage, you can better support character lessons.

Tips for Parents of Little Kids
Tips for Parents of Big Kids
Tips for Parents of Tweens and Teens

Character Traits, Life Skills, and Media Picks That Support Them


Tips for Parents of Little Kids
Watch, play, read, and talk. Simply enjoying a show, a book, or a game together and discussing a character’s behavior and actions helps kids better understand the internal motivation behind character traits. At this age, kids will soak up whatever they see and hear, so look for media with positive role models, messages about sharing and being a good friend, and managing feelings. These tips can help:

Books, TV, Movies

  • Keep things simple. Stories with one main idea that’s supported by the action are most effective for preschoolers. Look for short TV shows that stick to pro-social messages. Little kids often think that it’s the threat of punishment that makes a protagonist behave a certain way. Help them understand that it’s important to do the right thing even when, for example, you won’t get caught.
  • Don’t expect young kids to understand the moral of the story. Folktales and fables are fun, but their messages don’t necessarily get through to preschoolers (especially when the characters aren’t human). No need to push it if the moral is lost on your kid.
  • Look for characters and situations your kid can relate to. Kids who see themselves in a protagonist are more likely to understand and copy their pro-social behavior. A show about the importance of honesty, for example, will go over better if your kid has something in common with the character — say, a new baby sister or a dislike of broccoli.

Interactive, Digital Media

  • Model digital citizenship. Put your phone away when you’re not using it — and explain that you don’t want your phone to get in the way of your time with your kids. When you go online, explain to your kids exactly what you’re doing. Tell them that you’re respectful of people you’re talking to and texting with. (Get more screen-time tips.)
  • Set limits around screen time. Establish rules about when kids can play with your phone to help develop self-control.

Tips for Parents of Big Kids
Help kids translate positive media messages to their own behavior. Co-viewing, co-playing, and modeling good digital citizenship continue to be important. Once kids can read, write, and go online independently, character lessons can extend to how you expect your kids to act in the online world. These tips can help:

Books, Movies, TV

  • Simple is still better. This age group still has some difficulty understanding character lessons in complex stories. They need to see the basic cause-and-effect sequence of how a character’s motives are connected to actions and consequences.
  • Fables can wait. Children are typically unable to extract lessons from fables until fourth grade. Younger children tend to retell specific parts of the story instead of absorbing a more general principle. Enjoy them if you want to — just don’t expect kids to learn the morality message.

Interactive, Digital Media

  • Teach digital citizenship. Explain your rules about responsible online behavior.
  • Choose cooperative games. Find games that depend on players working together to solve a problem.
  • Failing is OK. Look for apps that reward you for trying and trying again.
  • Think outside the box. Introduce games and apps that emphasize creativity and curiosity vs. those that are simply goal-oriented.

Tips for Parents of Tweens and Teens
At this age, kids can make clearer distinctions between right and wrong. As digital savvy increases, tweens and teens appreciate what they have — and the responsibility that they have to make the digital world a positive environment. These tips can help:

Books, Movies, TV

  • Seek out complexity. Tweens are emotionally and mentally mature enough to understand others’ perspectives and to engage in abstract reasoning. At this age, you can discuss how a character acts when he’s conflicted.
  • Stay involved. The ability to summarize the gist or main theme of a story develops late, often not until age 14. Tweens and teens still need parents to guide them through the intended moral takeaway.
  • Don’t be obvious. Tweens and teens often reject moralistic messages to protect their sense of freedom and/or reassert their independence. Offer titles in which there’s a moral dilemma and no clear-cut choice. When older kids interpret books, movies, or shows as agenda-less, absorbing, and relevant, they are most likely to really get the moral lessons they model. Instead of pointing out the lesson, ask them what they think and engage them in critical thinking.

Interactive, Digital Media

  • Discuss online ethics. Talk about the importance of staying true to yourself even in seemingly consequence-free situations. It’s easy to cheat or copy work, for example, but that damages your integrity.
  • Teach kids to be upstanders. Help them develop compassion and empathy by talking about the importance of standing up for people who are victimized online or in person.
  • Talk about anonymity. At this age, kids may not yet understand how their seemingly anonymous behavior can have a real effect on real people. Help them develop a sense of empathy with their online relationships.
  • Stress respectful communication. Kindness is only part of it. Explain how to comment constructively and contribute productively on social media.
  • Help them protect their and others’ privacy. Discuss what should remain private and what’s OK to put out there.
  • Put “likes” in perspective. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when kids compete for followers on Instagram or other social media. But help tweens and teens realize that their self-worth isn’t determined by how many likes they get — and that a little humility is a positive virtue.
  • Remind them of the value of their devices. However it works for you — whether it’s having your kid contribute money or chores or making them pay outright for downloads — it’s important for kids to develop gratitude by understanding that these things are a privilege.
  • Encourage your kid’s school to teach digital literacy. So much of what happens at school is mirrored in the online world. It benefits the entire community when kids learn to be responsible digital citizens.

Character Traits, Life Skills, and Media Picks That Support Them

Common Sense Media worked with researchers and educators to identify and define 11 key characteristics that embody life skills, moral choices, and personal virtues. We then mapped each trait to movies and TV shows so you can easily find shows and use our reviews to start conversations.

Communication
Listening attentively and appreciatively, expressing yourself clearly and sensitively, and honoring differences.
Movies That Promote Communication
TV That Promotes Communication

Compassion
Caring about others and behaving toward others with affection, generosity, and concern.
Movies That Inspire Compassion
TV That Inspires Compassion

Courage
Taking on challenges even when there’s risk. Speaking up for what’s right even if there’s opposition; acting on your convictions.
Movies That Inspire Courage
TV That Inspires Courage

Curiosity
Having a strong desire to learn or know something — a search for information for its own sake. Actively seeking out challenges and new experiences.
Movies That Inspire Curiosity
TV That Inspires Curiosity

Empathy
Understanding the feelings and perspective of another person; putting yourself “in their shoes.”
Movies That Inspire Empathy
TV That Inspires Empathy

Gratitude
Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen in your life and taking the time to express appreciation and return kindness.
Movies That Inspire Gratitude
TV That Inspires Gratitude

Humility
Not regarding yourself as more special or better than others.
Movies That Promote Humility
TV That Promotes Humility

Integrity
Speaking the truth. Acting in a sincere way. Treating people equally and taking responsibility for your feelings and actions.
Movies That Inspire Integrity
TV That Inspires Integrity

Perseverance
Persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles. Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.
Movies That Promote Perseverance
TV That Promotes Perseverance

Self-Control
Being able to appropriately manage your thoughts, feelings, and impulses. Requires paying attention to your emotions and feelings.
Movies That Promote Self-Control
TV That Promotes Self-Control

Teamwork
Working respectfully and effectively with a group and doing your share.
Movies That Promote Teamwork
TV That Promotes Teamwork

About the Author: Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media’s parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids’ media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you’re wondering “what’s the right age for…?” Caroline can help you make the decision that works best for your family. She has more than 20 years of editorial and creative marketing writing experience and has held senior-level positions at Walmart.com, Walmart stores, Cnet, and Bay Area Parent magazine. She specializes in translating complex information into bite-sized chunks to help families make informed choices about what their kids watch, play, read, and do. And she’s the proud mom of a teenage son whose media passions include Star Wars, StarCraft,graphic novels, and the radio program This American Life.

 

Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsensemedia.org.

Alison, the American iMum is from Massachusetts. She lives there with her two sons and husband. In their spare time, they enjoy playing outside, enjoying nature and of course testing apps and fantastic products on their devices. My older son loves technology and loves testing out the “latest and newest” apps and tech. I love sharing information about apps and products with others to help them make decisions without feeling overwhelmed with all of the choices.

10 Great Gifts For Dads and Grads – 2015

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June is a busy time of year with Graduations, school year ending and Father’s Day. If you are looking for a gift for the special man in your life we have put together some great ideas. For female graduates you can find great gift ideas here and also in our recent iThe iMums 10 Great Gift Ideas for Moms. We have gifts to suit all tastes – including an iPhone  case that can recharge by solar power, a fun Bluetooth speaker that will make you do a double take as it what it is, a great gift for the Minecraft fan, a product to improve sleep, gifts for the music lover, the man who needs a little help with getting fit and losing weight and lots more. Be sure to check out the full list and let us know what you’ll be buying for your dad or grad- does something on the list catch your eye or do you have other ideas?

iBT12 SoundFlask Wireless Bluetooth Speaker iBT12S.jpg.450x400_q85 2
The iBT12 Flask Shaped Wireless Bluetooth Speaker from iHome is a fun yet practical gift. Available in Silver or Black this wireless Bluetooth speakers looks just like a hip flask and is small enough to fit in a pocket and weighs less than half a pound. It connects to any Bluetooth device to play music on the go and even acts as a speaker phone. It comes with a custom carrying case with carabiner so he can take it anywhere. Despite it’s small size it packs a punch with plenty of volume and sounds surprisingly good for a sub $50 speaker. Available from iHome.com and other retailers RRP US$49.99


Kensington KeyFolio Thin X3™ for iPad Air™ 2  keyfolio

The KeyFolio Thin X3™ for iPad Air™ 2 from Kensington is a great gift for the iPad Air 2 owner. If you have an iPad Air 2 then you want a light, slim accessories to go with it. The KeyFolio Thin X3™ is a great choice, it weighs approximately 15 oz and not only is it a case and keyboard, but it also acts as a backup charger for your iPhone! One feature I love is the keyboard automatically switches on when the iPad is in the magnetic stand, and switches it off when it is taken out, saving the battery. The Quikfold design lets the keyboard fold under the iPad when you want to use the iPad without the keyboard. Strong magnets hold the case firmly shut when it is closed as well as automatically activating the iPad’s sleep/ wake modes. The case looks professional and has a textured surface making it easy to carry without dropping. Available from Kensington, Amazon and other suppliers for US$$99.99

Griffin Twenty Digital Audio Amplifier 
Griffin twentyFor the music lover the Twenty digital audio amplifier from Griffin Technology makes a great gift. It connects via Bluetooth from your phone to your speakers and streams high quality audio at 20 watts per channel. It has a  30-foot Bluetooth range, and is designed to work with your old speakers to bring them into the digital age. It can also physically connect to your AirPort Express or Apple TV, game console or TV via an included optical TOSLINK cable, for clear optical audio. Available from Griffin.com and Amazon for US$149, if your speakers need upgrading it is also available bundled with NHT speakers.

EnerPlex Surfr Case for iPhone 6 Surfr-Iphone-6-Family (1)
The Surfr iPhone 6 Case from EnerPlex is a great iPhone case for keeping his phone charged no matter where he is. It has a 2,700 mAh backup battery built-in to keep his phone charged all day even under heavy usage. As well as charging conventionally via a mini USB/ USB charging cable it also features a built-in solar panel for emergency charging when he is off the grid. Especially useful for those who enjoy the great outdoors, this case is useful for anyone  to provide an emergency backup as even when the backup battery has been used the solar panel can recharge it enough for a quick phone call after 10-15 minutes. Available from Enerplex.com  for US$99.99

GameBand +Minecraft 
The GAMEBAND-BIG_1Gameband + Minecraft  is the perfect gift for the Minecraft fan, it is both a fashion statement and a secure way of backing up Minecraft worlds and taking them with you wherever you go. As well as the physical backup on the Gameband there is also a backup via the cloud to the Gameband servers so if you ever lose or damage your Gameband you can still recover your worlds. It is very easy to use, and you can customize the display with your own Minecraft themed animation. It can also display the date and time, doubling as a digital watch as well as a cool wearable. Available from Target, Best Buy, Gamestop, Microsoft shops and other retailers for US $79.99. Read our full review

 

Sleep Companion from Holi

sleep_bulbGetting a good night’s rest and waking up feeling refreshed is one of the most important things we can do for our health and happiness. The Sleep Companion by Holi can’t make you go to bed any earlier but is can help you relax at bedtime and set the right spectrum of light to naturally prepare your body for sleep. Then 20 minutes before your alarm is due to go off it will gradually come on with just the right color lighting to decrease your melatonin ready to wake up feeling refreshed. It has an alarm feature that works with your phone to wake you up with a choice of 3 gentle audible alarms. It can also monitor how much sleep you re getting, so you can track it over time.  Available from Holi.com US $99, and available for pre-order on Amazon

 

 

Kiqplan Beer Belly Blaster Kiqplan Beer Belly Blaster_1
If the man in your life needs a little help getting on track with his fitness and weight loss goals the Beer Belly Blaster from Kiqplan may be just what he needs. instead of buying yet another activity tracker it will work with the one he has- whether that be a Jawbone UP, Fitbit, FitBug Orb, Nike+ Fuelband or many more. You get an individualized exercise and nutrition plan, with recipes, workout videos, daily targets advice and feedback.  This is  a 12 week plan available from kiqplan.com for US$19.99


scupltMicrosoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop
Ergonomic wireless keyboard incorporates a split keyboard with seperate keypad desgined to reduce wrist fatigue and position arms and wrists in a more natural position.  Includes a “Windows” button on the mouse which provides one click access to the desktop/start screen.  Great battery life and comfortable to use for hours. Available from Amazon for US$87.00


back3D Back Massage by Brookstone
The 3D Back Massager by Brookstone is a portable back massager that features built in carry handles, twelve “massage” nodes featuring the Shiatsu method and provides a deep massage to your back.  If you sit at a desk all day, or have a sore back from shoveling show and ice, you may notice tension and some back fatigue.  This massager which fits on any chair or couch moves up and down, side to side and front to back while providing a massage that loosens your sore back or body.  One direction massages toward the spine, and the other massages away from your spine.  You can flip the massager from top to bottom which allows for a more focused massage on the lower back. Available from Brookstone for US$119

 

371027-just-mobile-alupen-digitalJust Mobile AluPen Digital Stylus
Lightweight stylus with a 1.8 mm tip is made of hard plastic and feels more like a ballpoint pen when using it compared to a traditional stylus.  I used it comfortably on my iPad Mini covered with a Griffin Survivor – and you could definitely “hear” the audible tap when it made contact with the screen, but with contact I found better precision and  Available from Just Mobile for US $39.99

 

For additional gift ideas check out these articles from The iMums: iThe iMums 10 Great Gift Ideas for Moms.  Awesome iPod, iPhone & iPad Accessories for Kids, Gorgeous iPod, iPhone & iPad Accessories for Women, and Cool iPhone & iPad Accessories for Men.

 

Mary is originally from England but now lives in California with her husband, dog, cat and three children. Mary and her family love Apple products and own an iPad2, iPad3, iPad Mini, iTouch, iPhone5 and several MacBook Pros. They also love cub scouts, skiing, camping and hiking. The family iPads are also used for therapy for their daughters Apraxia (speech disorder).

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