Media and Children
by Teresa M. Woods, Ph.D.
One reason I returned to working with children and teachers in a public Waldorf school is that the research surrounding me in higher education kept pointing to all the excellent practices in Waldorf pedagogy (focus on relationships, storytelling, visual arts, performing arts, music, handwork, environmental focus, rhythm and routine, movement, and culture all integrated into the academic subjects).
Studies also highlight the dangers of what fills so many children’s lives today: digital technology, electronic media, and increasing exposure to violence. While technology provides our greatest tools for advancement, they can also serve as serious challenges for healthy development and living, especially for children.
For instance, the fast-paced, quick-changing visual and auditory stimuli of most electronic media have been specifically designed to hook and hold children’s attention, developing brain patterns that have been connected to attention deficits and dysregulation. Engagement in social media has been shown to be as addictive as drugs and gambling, and to often promote depression. Other dangers include exposure to products that are harmful to health (tobacco, drugs), to unhealthy behaviors (self-injury or hurting others), to socially inappropriate interactions (bullying, harassment, polarization), to biased misinformation, and to high-risk strangers.
Our environments help shape our brains and the connections within our brains. This idea is captured in neuropsychologist Donald Hebb’s phrase, “Neurons that fire together wire together.” Hebb’s work focused on associative learning, and I provide two links below to resources (an article and a TED talk video) that elucidate the current research findings further.
Something that particularly worries the educators at Mountain Song is the influence of first-person shooter video games, such as Fortnite, in which the live-streaming “play” is designed to be from a first-person point of view, and the goal is to be the “last one standing” by shooting all of your friends who are also in live-streaming play. Our brains are trained by how we interact with the world, and it should be obvious why it is concerning that children are being marketed a game in which they enact harming others. We ask you to please refrain from introducing and allowing your child to play such games.
The good news is that at Mountain Song, we not only discourage these harmful influences, but we also cultivate rich activities in our curriculum that have been shown to promote healthy and strong brain development. The last article below highlights the importance of the arts and crafts in education to complement academics, as we offer in Waldorf schools, for developing imagination, resourcefulness, creativity, teamwork, design, resilience, and problem-solving skills.
Dunkley, Victoria L. (Sept 25, 2016). This is your child’s brain on video games. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-wealth/201609/is-your-childs-brain-video-games
Christakis, Dimitri. (Dec 28, 2011). Media and Children. TEDxRanier Talk. https://youtu.be/BoT7qH_uVNo
Coughlan, Sean. (Oct 30, 2018). Surgery students “losing dexterity to stitch patients.” BBC News, Family and Education. https://www.bbc.com/news/education-46019429