Ask your students how much they paid to watch the Super Bowl on TV and you’ll probably get a whole lot of blank stares.
The Super Bowl provides us hours of sports entertainment and even has a short concert in the middle. All of this is free to anyone with a television and an antenna.
Of course, some of the adults watching understand that it’s not completely free. High stakes commercials are rolled out during the big game with the hopes that we keep brand names like Kia, Budweiser, Pepsi, Skittles, and Snickers in our minds for the rest of the year. Our entertainment world is fused with branding with the intent to make us all life-long customers.
Sometimes the branding in our entertainment gets out of hand. Some viewers cringe when product placement is jammed into their favorite story line. Others identify with their favorite character’s taste in products and begin to notice those brands in the real world. Mission accomplished for the advertisers.
TV news reporting is where things get even trickier. Journalism is supposed to inform us with unbiased facts about our world. However, we begin to question the integrity of the journalism when we sense that the reporting may have been influence by a brand.
The advertising that enters our homes can be a challenge for parents but we can turn off the TV. When advertising enters the classroom our options become murky.
Children spend a large amount of their childhood in school. Brands are unavoidable when they are promoted by teachers for the next school fundraiser or flashing in the margins of the latest digital tool that they have been assigned to use. Things get downright despicable when the lessons present students with a commercial to watch before they work through the next level of a so-called online learning game.
To often, commercialism in the classroom comes down to one word: free.
Teachers, already strapped for time, take a glancing look at a free online service and push it out to students. They may even tell students to create an account with the service while overlooking the fact that the service isn’t free at all. The students are the product. The service is free because, through branding, it is helping advertisers convert our students into customers for life. The students’ information and page views are providing the funds that keeps the free service free.
These are dangerous waters for schools to be in. When a service trades even a little bit of school time to promote branding, we should question the educational integrity of that service. When a child’s learning is laced with messages of consumerism that promote the idea that happiness is reached through consumption, we should question how these messages affect the child’s well-being.
Education isn’t entertainment. Unlike the Super Bowl, students cannot leave the room for the commercials. Parents aren’t there to hit the off switch. It’s up to teachers to make sure students are on the right channel.
When children and adolescents have unlimited and unsupervised access to media, evidence has shown that this exposure can lead to several health effects such as academic difficulties, obesity, substance abuse, and aggression. Yet, we live in a media-rich world where devices like tablets and smartphones can also provide many benefits. To acknowledge this need for balance, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recently updated their guidelines for children and adolescents with new policy statements on screen time.
To start the screen time conversation with parents, the AAP recommends that pediatricians begin asking these two questions at every well-child visit: How much recreational screen time does your child or teenager consume daily? Is there a TV set or an Internet connected device in the child’s or teenager’s bedroom?
The AAP recommends that parents limit entertainment screen time to less than one to two hours per day. They suggest that families create a media plan for their homes and keep televisions and other Internet connected devices out of a child’s bedroom.
Schools and teachers should be considering these guidelines too. How can parents make a media plan for their family without knowing what is being consumed at school? We must be careful not to contribute to a child’s entertainment screen time diet.
Many games and apps are labeled “educational” but have no measured effectiveness to support the claim. Some are simply just interactive toys. Dr. Ari Brown, pediatrician and lead author of policy provided by the AAP in 2011, questions the link between an interactive game and the learning it promises to provide. “There’s nothing wrong with a toy being fun, engaging a child for an amount of time. But to promote it as being educational we really need to do research to find out,” explains Brown.
Based on the new AAP guidelines and recommendations, there are many things for teachers to consider. Online games and touch-screen apps can be incredibly engaging for students. However, we must select tools that can demonstrate a targeted approach to student learning. Look for tools that have research to support their educational benefits and be critical of those that will only contribute to a child’s daily dose of entertainment screen time.
When I was in grade school I loved learning about the state and I loved Tetris. Statetris rolls them up into hours of fun with a flashed-based Tetris game that uses states as blocks. BoingBoing explains the game best when they write, “Get ’em into the right spot or the US will overflow into Canada and everyone gets socialized medicine!”
I’m definitely saving this one for when my own kids get a little older.