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Television, Social Media, and Fiction vs. Reality

I readily admit that I just finished episode five of Squid Game on Netflix. Do I like the show? Not really. Yet do I find myself watching and not looking away, most definitely. As I hear students talking about this show, I begin to question just what they are taking away from watching it. Then I become worried. As a grown adult, with a fully developed brain, I am not watching the show with a confusion of fiction versus reality. I don’t second guess if this situation could happen, and I also don’t watch the show thinking I am invincible. But our children are.

These shows are at our fingertips, and as adults, we can make the conscious scrolling choice to watch Squid Game or switch over to Ted Lasso; and yet, even with that power, it is sometimes difficult to move on. So imagine placing our children in front of a show created to manipulate the mind of its viewer and then ask ourselves, is it fair to expect them to be able to flip the channel? 

When shows are intended for older audiences, they assume that levels of development have been reached by their viewers, and therefore, the viewer can understand the show with deeper meaning. For example, a show like Squid Game would assume its audience understands the principle of right versus wrong, a level of moral development usually attained by  watching adults in our lives model this concept. The idea seems simple, but it isn’t achieved until late adolescence  or early adulthood. This stage of development, theorized by Lawrence Kohlberg, encompasses the idea of maintaining the social order, or understanding that certain behaviors are right and others are wrong. Rules were created to keep some semblance of order in society, and therefore, we begin to understand that our decisions not only affect us but they can affect those around us. If this concept isn’t grasped, the premise of Squid Game is lost, and instead it is a show about playing children’s games to the death. 

So why am I writing today about this topic? It is quite clear from conversation both at our school and in the larger community of educators that television, social media, and cell phones are a growing concern. Children are being bombarded by ideas, topics, and messages that negatively influence their decision making; as parents, we may not even be aware that this is going on.

Rob Kapner, our Middle School Principal, recently informed parents of a viral TikTok challenge going around in Middle Schools nationally that challenges students to partake in violent, offensive, and dangerous behaviors and then post them. Even if this information was news to us as parents, our students all knew about it. Students are watching shows that are meant for mature adult audiences, and if they aren’t talking about it at home, I can promise you, they are talking about them at school. And on a more simplistic level, students are sharing things through their phones that could have negative consequences for themselves or others. Is this only happening at ISDenver, absolutely not. Is this an issue affecting students across the nation, most definitely. 

So I want to share some tips with families in regards to everything that is out there right now:

  • ECE - Lower Primary (K1 - G2): Take advantage of Common Sense Media. This site allows you to type in shows and see what age group is the intended audience. It can also give you summaries of the shows. It’s important to stick to media intended for this age group.
     
  • Upper Primary (G3 - G5): Not only is Common Sense Media still a great option for you, but also, now is a good time to talk about fiction versus reality. This age group isn’t solely watching cartoons, and therefore, when real actors are doing things on screen, it fogs our ability to distinguish what is real and what is not. They need help in doing this. This is also when the conversation of cell phones may begin in your household. These family specific discussions should cover the concepts of private versus public information. Boundaries need to be set on what phones are for and why they can be dangerous. 
     
  • Middle School (G6 - G8): For Middle School, know what your child is doing. You have every right to monitor phones, screen time, and conversations. Our students are smart, and they know things before adults can decipher the language. Ask questions of them, ask us here at school, and know what pressures are weighing on them. Social media isn’t a requirement, so don’t be convinced to think it is. Many sites require you to be 13, for a reason, so research which sites your child might be using. 

In summary, I want to stress that Parental Controls are awesome things and part of most technology we use. Set them up, and remind yourself that our children’s brains aren’t ready to make the big decisions they are being asked to make right now in regards to technology. If we, ourselves, struggle to check how many likes we are getting on a photo, turning off a violent show, or texting while driving, just imagine how hard it is for them to do the same. Again, you can always reach out for help navigating these quickly changing times.

Annie Barocas
Director of Counseling

 

 

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