Article: Character and Kids in a Digital Media World

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 sons and husband. In their spare time, they enjoy playing outside, enjoying nature and of course testing apps and fantastic products on their devices. They have a variety of devices including an iPad, iPhone, and an iPod and is often found with a device! 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.
12 Great Christmas Gifts for Kids from Tots to Teens- The iMums Christmas Gift Guide 2015 Part 1

12 Great Christmas Gifts for Kids from Tots to Teens- The iMums Christmas Gift Guide 2015 Part 1

iMums_kids

As the holidays draw near it is time to start thinking of Christmas Shopping. Santa is busy checking his list to see who’s naughty or nice, but what is on your shopping list this year? The iMums have 12 great gift ideas for the children on your list from tots to teens. We have included educational toys and games that get children thinking, creating, reading and moving. For the older kids we have included products to teach them about electronics, robotics, STEM, as well as affordable cellphones and gifts for the Minecraft fan and music lover.

 

Bluebee Pals Interactive Bluetooth Enabled Soft Toys

BBPALS2BlueBee Pals are big, cuddly, totally adorable stuffed animals that connect to your iPad, iPhone or other device via Bluetooth. They act as a speaker for the music or app playing on your device and can also be used as a speakerphone. The animal’s mouth moves in time to what is being said/ sung to give the illusion that the animal is actually talking! They are a great way to get children engaged with educational apps and stories. Available from the BlueBee Pals website ,  Toys R Us, Walmart and other retailers. Price: $64.99. Read our full review and ENTER TO WIN!!

Lil’ Monkey Climbing Dome

lilMonkey3Lil’ Monkey Climbing Dome is a climbing dome with a difference- not only is it a lightweight, flexible climbing frame, it also comes with it’s own augmented reality app! It is easy to assemble, lightweight & flexible yet strong and well-made. It can be used outside or indoors- where It also makes a great base for a fort when used indoors! The target age range of 3-6 is a good guide, but slightly older kids will enjoy it also. Available from Amazon Price: $139.99. Read our full review.

Tiggly Shapes by Tiggly

tigglyTiggly Shapes is a physical toy which is used with your iPad or Android device. It is designed to help 18 – 36 month olds learn basic shapes in a tactile format as well as on the iPad. It comes with three different fun apps: Tiggly Safari, Tiggly Stamp and Tiggly Draw. Toddlers can touch the shapes physically and feel the “bumps” which make the shape, as well interact with the iPad apps by pressing the shapes on the screen and the app will identify if it is the correct shape or not. Read our full review . Available from Amazon or Tiggly.com Price: $20-30

Smart Toy by Fisher Price

mrmThe Smart Toy – or as my kids call him Mr. M has brought delight to both my 18 month old and 7 year old. He helps us practice our clean-up skills when we are done playing, reads stories and adventures that are developmentally appropriate depending on your kids age and more. One of my favorite features is that Mr. M will listen to what my kids tell him and then remember it. Each time he “wakes up” which is done by turning the power on, he states the date, the weather and says hello to his “friend”.Read our full reviewAvailable from Toys R Us Price: $99.99

Dash™ Robot by Wonder Workshop

Dash draws 2Dash is a really fun educational Robot. He comes with 5 different free apps allowing children to operate him with a simple remote control on a tablet, or learn to program him to do complex tasks using Blockly or Wonder. He is very maneuverable and has proximity sensors, lights, microphone and speakers. New challenges are constantly being added to keep children engaged and learning. Brick connectors let you add your own accessories using Lego, a variety of accessories are also available. designed for ages 5-12+. Read our full review. Available from Wonder Workshop and Amazon Price: $149.99

 

Flash & Thunder by INVICTA Challenge

PDFforReferenceFlash & Thunder is set during WW2 and tells the story of Turner Turnbull, a Native American paratrooper, and his incredible leadership during D-Day. The set includes a graphic novel, a mission packet with 15 cards, maps, a 6″ action figure and online interactive video game (which will be available in app form soon.) The player reads the mission cards and studies the maps to learn the historical background before reading the novel. As they read the story they need to make decisions that decide the fate of Turner and his men, and affect the course of history. Will the mission succeed or fail? That depends on how well they have studied the operations packet. Read our full review and ENTER TO WIN! Available from Barnes & Noble Price: $34.99

 

Pet Portrait Studio by Build and Imagine

Build-Imagine_Pet_portrait_bath_closeup_WEBWith the Pet Portrait Studio from Build & Imagine right brain meets left brain with a combination of a magnetic building set and creative storytelling inspiration. The set includes 10 dual-sided magnetic panels, 2 dress up dolls, 4 wooden pets and 40+ magnetic accessories. The child can build their pet studio in any configuration they like using the panels, and then use the people, pets and accessories to act out stories.  Read our Full Review.  Available from Build & Imagine, Amazon& other retailers. Price: $49.99

 Ozobot Bit 2.0

ozobotOzobot Bit 2.0 is a tiny, fun, interactive must have science and learning toy which will teach your kids the fundamentals of Blocky programming while they are having fun and grooving to the music! Read our full review. Available from Amazon Price: $59.99

 

Gameband + Minecraft Wearable

GAMEBAND-BIG_1For Minecraft fans the GameBand+ is both a fashion statement and a way to take your Minecraft worlds on the go. It is a digital watch, a cool wearable, and a secure way to back up and carry your Minecraft worlds, allowing you to use them on any computer. 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. Read our full review. Available from  AmazonTarget, GameStop, Best Buy &  Microsoft Stores. Price: $79.99

TEXTNOW Affordable No Contract Smartphones

If your Tween or Teen wants a Cellphone for Xmas TEXTNOW is an affordable way of  providing them with their own no-contract smartphone. The handsets are very affordable, there is no commitment and no overage fees. Plans start at $18.99/ month including unlimited texts, US calls and 2g data, plus varying amounts of 3G/ 4G data. Phone prices include:  LG Realm and LG Tribute are free;  Moto G is just $4.99, and the Galaxy S4 for just $149.99. On Black Friday they have even better deals! Read our full reviewAvailable from  the TEXTNOW website.

 

iBT29 Bluetooth Color Changing Dual Alarm Clock FM Radio from iHome

iBT29_DC2_48cH9MV.jpg.450x400_q85Do you have a teen who has a hard time getting up in the morning? The iBT29 could be the perfect gift for them. It has dual alarms, an FM radio and allows them to play music from their Smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth or aux-in jack. It also has a USB charging port and fun color changing light display.Available from iHome, Amazon, Bed,Bath & Beyond and other retailers. Price: $59.99

DIY GAMER KIT from Technology Will Save Us

DIYGAMER The DIY Gamer Kit includes an Arduino microprocessor and all the components needed to build a hand held gaming unit with 8 x 8 LED matrix display. As they build it the teen learns about electronics and soldering. Once it is built they can learn to code classic games on it and then design their own games. For ages 12+ Available from Technology Will Save Us. Price: $98 (free shipping)

You may also wish to check out our Christmas Gift Guide 2015- Part 2- 22 Terrific Tech Gifts.

GIVEAWAYS

Enter to win an adorable Sammy Bear from Bluebee Pals ($64.99 VALUE)

Enter to win a complete Flash & Thunder set from Invicta Challenge including Interactive Graphic novel, Mission Cards, Map, Video game and Figure ($34.99 VALUE)

Enter to win a Bevy Photo Storage Device ($299Value)

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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