As you might know from my other posts, I have an 8-year-old son. He is a good kid who makes friends easily, does well at school, likes to read, plays tennis and soccer and made the cross-country team. I have encouraged all these things and tried to keep him active. With the onset of both Christmas and his birthday the week after, there is only one thing on his list. A gaming console. And so, it begins. I don’t know what it is, but I have resisted for this long and I am running out of reasons to say no. Should I be saying yes? Most of his friends have one, mostly the Nintendo Switch which is commonly suggested as the most family friendly of the top three (Nintendo Switch, X-Box and Sony Play Station). You might ask if I had one as a kid. The answer is yes, but it was Atari and let's face it, it was completely exciting to have one but the games were quick entertainment and not all consuming like anything connected with today's youth popular culture seems to be.
For decades, researchers have conducted studies to find out whether violent video games lead to problems such as aggression, lack of empathy and poor performance in school. - Psychology Today
But more recent research suggests that these conclusions have been biased, drawn false positives and there is actually little link between aggression in gaming and in reality. I must say thought it doesn’t fill me with confidence. If the tide has turned, it might just turn back again. It's like when we were told to avoid the sun as it causes cancer only then to be told that we should all be spending more time in the sun. I am pretty certain that I am not the only parent with these concerns. When I typed into Google, “Do video games…” some of the top auto selections were “…cause violence, …cause obesity, …cause depression?”. As much as I want to depend on this recent opinion that gaming isn't detrimental, the jury is still out.
My son currently plays some games on my iPad and I have become one of those parents who seem to be constantly calling out, "Turn of that iPad and go play in the real world!" (for goodness sake!). At the moment picking up the iPad seems to be his default setting. Is a console going to make it even more difficult? The Nintendo Switch, while played on a TV screen, also has a handheld portable device. Herein lies the biggest conundrum. We recently went to an outdoor movie night on the school oval as an end of school activity. While all the kids were waiting for the movie to start, they were running about playing tiggy and kicking around a ball. However, my son’s good mate was in lying on a picnic rug with his eyes glued to his Switch. This wasn't in the last 5 minutes, it was for a good half an hour. His parents had allowed him to bring it along and I must admit, I was a little judgy. Thinking about that though, that was a parenting issue, not a gaming one.
The expense of the whole idea is another concern. The most up-to-date version retails for $449. But of course there is then games at about $59 each, extra controllers, game cases and all of the other accessories. I feel uncomfortable handing over a gift that costs so much money, plus the ongoing cost of new games. And let's face it, if my son does his weekly chores he gets around $5 a week so he isn't buying any new games any time soon! I also don't want to make such expensive gifts and follow up costs of games etc the norm. I don't mean that he gets them all of the time, and he is fairly appreciative of what he has, but I have a real issue about handing this money over every time that he wants something new. That is not the concept of value and money that I want to teach him.
But here's the good news: Playing video games some of the time can be OK. Choose quality games, and limit screen time — which includes TV, computer, smartphone, tablet, and video game time combined — to a reasonable amount. - Kids Health
Having said all of this there is the upside. It is something we can do together as a family. There are plenty of websites and blogs detailing the best games for different ages. For now we have a say in which games he gets (at least until we up his pocket money!) and so we still have guidance over those that err on fun and interaction rather than guns and brute survival. As far as a large console versus a hand held device goes, I would rather he play on the big screen than have his nose stuck to the iPad. I also think this will make it much easier to monitor his time on it. And finally, being an only child also surely has to bring a few perks? Right?
My final thoughts are these. I do think in the end it is more about parenting than purchasing. He (we) can use it to have fun, teach healthy moderation good sportsmanship (and the benefit of a good deal). The nice man in the shop did tell me about a certain Black Friday sale on Nintendo Switch...
Have you gone done this slope and is it a slippery one? I'd love to know your experiences and thoughts on the subject.
I can still hear the blood pumping in my ears. There is a tightness in my chest. I have just spent a good part of my evening creating an account for Instagram, or as the cool kids say, "The 'Gram" (but with less punctuation). Now, I consider myself to be a relatively capable person. I have a university degree, have built flat pack furniture and travelled abroad alone. So why? Why did it take me so long to create this account? Why? 😣
I think that the first glitch arose because there was no instruction booklet. Even IKEA gives an instruction booklet. It seems to be assumed that we are so used to downloading apps and creating accounts that there is no need for any real help. So, I Googled "Instagram" and clicked "Sign up". So far so good. I thought. My first hurdle was choosing a username that the rest of the planet hadn't already chosen. I had decided to base the page around my puppy and came up with the available combination, myclovercollective. After 35 minutes of right clicking, left clicking, dragging and dropping I managed to upload a profile picture. Some photos just wouldn't work. I still don't know why. Perhaps instructions would have helped 😁.
To activate my account I backed and forth-ed between my laptop and my mobile phone with secret codes and clever passwords only to receive a security message asking if I had just logged into my account from Caboolture. I do not live within a 100 km of Caboolture. The security message recommended twice more that I change my password immediately. That in itself was (a) torturous, because these new passwords I will have forgotten by tomorrow and (b) it was a real safety concern.
With my account finally set up I stared at my homepage. I had 0 followers, 0 posts and was following another puppy page and National Geographic. That's when it struck me. I really had nothing to say. I had no desire to share with or follow strangers. I have a Facebook page that I use to connect with friends and interact with several groups so those needs are met. But, I surged ahead though because I wanted to see what my students see. What was it that kept them active online? So, I posted, followed, liked and shared. I must say though, it all felt a little silly putting my posts out there to nobody. But, now I could put myself in the shoes of my students.
They are of a generation where their lives are documented daily in pictorial form through social media. Every moment is captured and recorded. What is the payoff? Most of these platforms provide feedback in the form of 'Likes'. Research is now tells us that receiving a 'like' has the same effect on the brain as eating chocolate and winning money. The prediction that the number of 'likes' can be correlated to a teen's self-esteem has been supported. Worrying is the thought of how teens feel when they don't get likes for a post, especially one that has been posed for, photo-shopped, filtered and altered to be 'their very best selves''. Experts say that users would rather remove their post entirely than have it go unnoticed.
Relying on affirmation from others in order to feel good about oneself may signal contingent self-worth, which can undermine well-being over time.
Just this month, Instagram has been testing the removal of the 'like' option. They noticed that users were becoming more concerned about the number of 'likes' a post received than the actual story telling the site was developed for. This is interesting considering teens are more likely to click 'like' on a post that has lots of likes, regardless of how they actually felt about it. I wonder if it will last and if it will catch on?
So, my final thoughts...I found the setting up and using of my Instagram account stressful and somewhat of a burden now that I need to keep posting. I don't want to let my 4 followers (yes 4 followers!) down. I am convinced though that a teen could have done it for me in less than 10 minutes. I can also see Instagram as a quick, mobile way for youth to document and share their stories. If this helps our youth stay connected with each other in a world when so many feel alone, that is a good thing. I suppose this is the new version of writing a diary, but one without a lock.
End note: I now have have 54 perfect strangers following myclovercollective (and I feel a little bit good about it!).
To Barbie or not to Barbie?
Being the mother of an 8 year old son, the last few years have been more about trucks and Lego than princesses and dolls. So when I needed to buy a gift for my beautiful and opinionated 5-year old niece off I went to the local toy store. As I headed down the 'girls' aisle' (yes, there was still a designated girls' aisle!) I got to thinking about Barbie. Friends have said they would never buy their daughters a Barbie doll. I was shocked. What in heaven's name did Barbie do to raise such vitriol? What messages would my niece get from her? And how is Barbie still a pop culture icon in 2019?
A little Barbie History...
I was surprised to discover that the first Barbie doll was invented by Ruth Handler, a mother and inventor, who was also the co-creator of Mattel. The idea came from watching her daughter and friends make their own dolls that were women and playing 'grown-ups'. Her intention was to create a doll (named after her daughter) for little girls to "play out their dreams" and be anything they wanted. She was a feminist! In the 1950's Barbie was groundbreaking and she quickly became part of youth popular culture. Since then Barbie has had 180 careers (and just as many outfits!).
So what happened?
It seems that Barbie could inspire little girls to have any career they wanted (she had to pay the mortgage on the Barbie mansion somehow) as long as she was tall, slim, blond and Caucasian. There was the rub. She didn't need to be smart, just pretty. In fact, the 80's Talking Teen Barbie exclaimed how "Math class is tough!". She also asked little girls, "Do you have a crush on anyone?", implying that struggling with maths was of the same level of concern as pretty party dresses and boy crushes.
Psychologists have weighed in on what the power of popular culture can have on consumers. "The Barbie Effect" is said to be the feeling of inadequacy some girls have because their bodily proportions can not match those of Barbie's. Studies suggest that even playing with Barbie once increased the tested girls' young internalisation of the thin ideal. I wonder if these results would have been the same in the 50's? I had a Barbie in the 80's but I never imagined I should look like her. Has the effect of pop culture changed so much? Does it really effect today's youth on such a fundamental level?
A change in popular culture
As I see it, youth popular culture in the past was about participating in things that were popular. It was about playing records (yes records) of Michael Jackson, practising tricks on a yo-yo and wearing anything fluorescent (we called it "dayglo"). Then, when the music stopped and the toys were packed away, kids went on with their day. Now technology keeps kids and culture connected all day, every day. Celebrities advertise their wares on social media, teens participate in viral trends (safe and unsafe) to gain 'likes' and dances are learned because they are on Fortnight. Barbie, once merely a doll in a lovely house with a fabulous car, now has her own Twitter account, interactive websites and is an Instagram Influencer with 2 million followers! (Barbie@barbiestyle) - (We both know you are going to check it out).
The way that teens access and interact with popular culture has been revolutionized by technology and specialization. They don’t just experience popular culture and react to it; they interact with it and affect it in real time.
So my final thoughts are these. I hope we teach our kids to think about what pop culture throws their way and decide if it represents what they want our world to value. I also hope that Barbie isn't the number one role model for our daughters. If popular culture has such an impact on youth, then perhaps we too must also have an impact on popular culture.
Becker, A. (2015). Youth and popular culture: It's all about influence and interaction. Retrieved from http://www.youthesource.com/2015/08/20/youth-and-popular-culture-its-all-about-influence-and-interaction/
Rice, K., Pritchard, I., Tiggeman, M. & Slater, A. (2-16). Exposure to Barbie: Effects on thin-ideal internalisation, body esteem, and body dissatisfaction among young girls. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1740144516300730
Wouldn't it be nice to say that gone are the days when the value of reading depended on what is being read? Where parents do not lament that their children should be reading 'real books' and teachers no longer suggest that students can borrow one 'proper book' and one comic? Sadly, we have not yet reached this literary utopia, despite the growing popularity of graphic literature and the academic support for it. Don't misunderstand me, there is a definite difference in the quality of literature out there and it I am all for the good stuff. But here I am talking about the differences in genre, not quality.
Any good educator is using a variety of teaching tools, no matter what the subject. To teach children fractions, we have students manipulating pie-shaped wholes into segments, cutting out and colouring in, looking at pizza slices in a whole new way (pardon the pun) and the list goes on. Just like teaching fractions, teaching literacy surely needs to embrace all possible resources, including the classics, picture books, popular series, non-fiction, and, just as importantly, graphic novels and comics.
A graphic novel uses the interplay of text and illustrations in a comic-strip format to tell a story. Instead of relying on just text to construct a narrative, it uses graphical elements such as panels, frames, speech/thought balloons, etc. in a sequential way to create and evoke a story in a reader’s mind - Penguin Books Australia
I recently undertook a series of lessons in the library with my year 4 and 5 students. There is always that group of students (mostly boys in this case) whose eyes glaze over when anything bookish is mentioned (difficult to avoid it in a library lesson!). However when they learned that this particular lesson was on the genre of graphic novels and their half-closed eyes widened. Suddenly the kids who never co-operated in class were able to tell the rest of us how to read Manga (back-to-front), the names of popular characters and were even requesting that we purchase the latest releases in the Amulet series. By the end of the lesson, at least half of the class were browsing the (sadly lacking but good enough for now) graphic novel section. I was thrilled! The students ranged from top readers to the ones who claimed each week that "nothing in here interests me". To me as a teacher, I had tapped into something we are constantly trying to do, get our kids reading.
There are the academically proven benefits of and uses for graphic novels. They can be used to motivate all different groups of students. Teen boys are notoriously difficult to engage with reading but seem to enjoy the graphic approach to narratives. (Surprisingly, when tested, females outperformed males in comprehending graphic versions of traditional texts, giving a fresh perspective on a genre traditionally associated with boys). Gifted students can be motivated to extend beyond their usual go-to text type and be challenged by the visual literacy needed when reading a graphic novel. Students who struggle with literacy altogether and those who speak English as an additional language can all be supported by fewer written words but more visual clues. Research tells us that the visual aspect of a graphic novel adaptation increases the level of comprehension of both boys and girls. Isn't that a good thing?
I was surprised to learn that the research tells us that students’ level of reading engagement was more important than socioeconomic background as a predictor of literary performance (Francis). If this is true, and the best thing teachers can do to improve literacy is engage students, then why aren't we using graphic novels more? It seems we are missing a trick. If teachers use graphic novels and comic books to spark students' attention (like moths to a flame) we can have them engaged them from the start. Imagine introducing Shakespeare's Hamlet, first as a graphic novel. Or introducing the structure of narrative by first reading The Purple Smurf. Or learning about disability by reading El Deafo, the story of a girl who is deaf and how she navigates her world.
For what it is worth I am from the "any reading is good reading" camp. If we can get students picking up a book, reading what they love, engaging in the curriculum and appreciating the mechanics of the written word, any word, then I say Graphic Novels: Treasure.
Cook, M. P. (2017). Now I “See”: The Impact of Graphic Novels on Reading Comprehension in High School English Classrooms, Literacy Research and Instruction, 56(1), 21-53, DOI: 10.1080/19388071.2016.1244869