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Media Mentor Monday – Politics and Campaigns


On Friday, the Clinton Campaign introduced a new ad called “Mirrors.”  Two months ago, the Clinton Campaign launched an ad called “Role Models.”  Both of these ads really got me thinking about media effects with youth and how media effects are being used as a campaign tool.  Adolescence is a particularly important time for political learning, marking a transition from general ideas of power and symbols to represent politics in childhood to a deeper understanding of the political process including participation in the election process with casting of their first votes (Moeller & de Vreese, 2015).  In order for children to enhance their political learning, Moeller and de Vreese (2015) suggest that we need to encourage adolescence to pay more attention when watching or reading the news.  However, these researchers also found that children younger than 15 are already able to make enough sense of the news to learn from it about politics.

Which brings us to these two ads.  “Role Models” focuses on the impressions being made upon younger children about politicians while “Mirrors” addresses the messages that adolescence (particularly adolescent girls) are hearing during this campaign process.  The first suggests a concern about fear and victimization while the second calls into question  degrading messages about women.  Both of these topics have a long history of media effects research.  We know that news media can scare viewers, both young and old.  Children are increasingly frightened by the news as they grow from Kindergarten through their elementary years, particularly regarding news about violence between strangers (Cantor & Nathanson, 1996).  More recently, researchers found that older children were more likely to be frightened by news than younger children, and older children recalled news about violence and crime more than younger children (Smith & Wilson, 2002).  The ads suggest that children and youth are learning messages of fear and degradation from politicians.  Whether or not you believe these ads or support either candidate, it is really important for us to take a step back and ask ourselves what are our children learning from the media, in particular the news, about politics and politicians.  What can we do to ease fears from news consumption, and not just of politics but of any topic that may be frightening?  What can we do to support healthy self-image and confidence in today’s youth?

Please remember to talk to your children about what they see and hear in the media.  First, let them tell you what they see and how they feel about what they see and hear.  We may not see the same things they do, and we need to know what they are thinking about what they have seen and heard.  Second, teach them about where they are getting their information.  They need to begin to carefully consider the sources of information to begin to make judgements about the credibility of information.  Third, when possible, take your children with you to vote.  Let them learn about the process and see you vote – serving as a model for them in the future.  Finally, encourage curiosity in the world around them.  If this campaign has sparked an interest in news and in their world, this is a time to fuel the flame and help them navigate media sources to learn more.  There are many places to find information and for children and youth to participate in their own way in the electoral process.  Check these out:



Cantor, J., & Nathanson, A. I. (1996). Children’s fright reactions to television news. Journal of Communication, 46(4), 139-152.

Moeller, J., & de Vreese, C. (2015). Spiral of Political Learning The Reciprocal Relationship of News Media Use and Political Knowledge Among Adolescents. Communication Research, 0093650215605148.

Smith, S. L., & Wilson, B. J. (2002). Children’s comprehension of and fear reactions to television news. Media psychology, 4(1), 1-26.


Mindful Media Use: A Time and A Place for Everything

We’ve heard about the connections between sedentary activity, excessive screen time use, and childhood obesity.   Research shows us a relationship between screen time use and overweight, although the reasons for these connections are many including exposure to unhealthy food products in advertising, mindless and excessive overeating while viewing screens, and consequences of sedentary behaviors associated with screen use.  Moreover, television viewing has been associated with decreased time spent doing homework and engaging in creative play.  However, research does not support the widespread belief that television viewing displaces time spent reading or time spent in active play.

In fact, there are times when television and screen time use benefit children, and not just educational television either.  There is a time and place for everything, and a firefighter showed us this during an emergency situation involving children.  On September 5, 2015, in D’iberville, Mississippi, a car full of Firefighterchildren flipped over and over and at least 5 children were thrown from the car.  During the rescue efforts, a firefighter used his own cell phone to show a child victim a video of a movie, “Happy Feet,” to keep the child calm during a stressful and anxious time.  This reminded me of the research that shows a lower resting heart rate while watching television and all the times I’ve been given “Mommy advice” to stay how, cuddle, and watch a movie when my child is sick.  There are times with a lower resting heart rate is actually a good thing, and this firefighter knew it.  He may not have known this research, but he certainly knew how to soothe this child during a time of crisis that was appropriate for the situation – the mobile device and it’s content kept the child from moving around which could cause more injury, gave the child something familiar in an unfamiliar situation, and assisted in distracting the child from the pain and suffering he was experiencing and witnessed during a time of crisis.

Full article:–wkrc.shtml#.Vfnu5BFVikp

So let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water and block or abandon all media content or media use with children.  Media can serve a purpose for children in their lives.  Whether it be an educational video to support learning, or an entertaining movie to keep clam during a crisis, let’s use media in a positive way with our children.  Let’s find the times, places, and content that works best for our children and keeps them out of harms way.  For some, that may mean putting away the device to get the homework done.  For others, that may mean letting them play a video game to keep them occupied during a chemotherapy treatment.  Let’s be mindful of media use and raise our kids to be mindful media users, too.

To learn more:

Jordan, A. B., Kramer-Golinkoff, E. K., & Strasburger, V. C. (2008). Does adolescent media use cause obesity and eating disorders. Adolesc Med State Art Rev, 19(3), 431-449.

Vandewater, E. A., Bickham, D. S., & Lee, J. H. (2006). Time well spent? Relating television use to children’s free-time activities. Pediatrics, 117(2), e181-e191.

Vandewater, E. A., Shim, M. S., & Caplovitz, A. G. (2004). Linking obesity and activity level with children’s television and video game use. Journal of adolescence, 27(1), 71-85.

Can you tell me more about, more about this Sesame Street deal?

As you have heard by now, Sesame Street has recently made a 5-year deal with HBO that will allow new episodes of Sesame Street to be produced and appear on HBO first before being released to PBS.  There are many rumors and misunderstandings about what this all means, so let’s talk about the facts:

  • sesame_street_FINNew episodes of Sesame Street will appear on HBO only – a premium pay-cable channel.
  • After 9 months, these new episodes will be released and shown on PBS – a free public broadcaster.
  • PBS will still show reruns of previous episodes this fall.
  • HBO will be streaming episodes of Sesame Street.
  • Sesame Street will no longer appear on Amazon and Netflix.
  • Episodes of Sesame Street will still be available on and on the PBS Kids Video App which features 4 episodes each week and different episodes each week.
  • More episodes of Sesame Street will be made each year under these terms.  Currently, only 18 new episodes are produced each year.  For the next 5 years, 35 new episodes will be made each year.
  • A new series based on the Sesame Street muppets will be created.

What does this all mean?  What about the children?  Is Sesame Street leaving PBS?  What will happen to my beloved Sesame Street?

This change has many implications.  First and foremost, Sesame Street is NOT leaving PBS.  Older episodes will continue without skipping a beat this fall.  And the newer episodes that are being initially released on HBO will become available in 9 months – so we can anticipate the “birth” of the new episodes just like an older child waits for their baby brother or baby sister.  Remember, patience is a virtue!  Second, Sesame Workshop is not leaving behind the children it pledged to educate over 45 years ago.  With this transition, more episodes will be able to be produced while still maintaining the integrity of the Sesame Workshop mission.  And the old episodes, outreach materials, websites, and apps will still be available without cost.  Third, our beloved Sesame Street will continue to shine.  Without the struggle of trying to locate funding and fighting funding battles, Sesame Workshop can take on new projects, expand others, and continue to find ways to do what they do best – help kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.

We do, however, media_literacy_logo_phixrneed to be ever vigilant and mindful of new adventures.  Keep informed of these changes.  Tell others about your experiences.  Let your voice be heard to Sesame Workshop, PBS,
HBO, and government officials that may be voting on PBS funding initiatives.  Practice the lessons we learned from Sesame Street that learning is fun to keep educated about these changes.  Tell others how to get to Sesame Street – both new episodes and old ones – and never give up on making the world a little smarter, a little stronger, and a little kinder.

For news and information about these changes, check out the following:

Press Release from Sesame Workshop and HBO

NPR Breaking News

New York Times

Huffington Post


Big Media and Big Bird:  Implications

And on the lighter side…

Jimmy Fallon

Sunny day, sweeping the clouds away,

On my way to where the air is sweet!

Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?


After 45 years, we are still asking that same question.  This week on September 15, 2014, Sesame Street celebrated the beginning of its 45th season.  What a long journey it has been!

With a grant and a dream, Sesame Street started with the hope of harnessing the power and enticement of the television to offer something good, something educational to children.  And it still does today!  Sesame Street is the most researched children’s television show and for good reason – it’s powerful, it’s purposeful, and it’s relevant.

Sesame Street is powerful.

One of the most exciting things about the Sesame Street model is that we know it works!  Over 1,000 studies of Sesame Street from around the globe show that children who watch do significantly better than those who don’t watch on a wide range of developmental skills.  And that this impact is long lasting.  Adolescents who watched Sesame Street as youngsters read more, have a higher love of learning, and have a higher GPA than those who didn’t watch in early childhood.  AND these results hold true after taking into account differences in children’s family background such as mother’s education.  Now that’s the power of Sesame Street, making a long term impact on children of all backgrounds.

Sesame Street is purposeful.

The mission of Sesame Workshop is to help bring children to their highest potential.  This is based on 20 core school readiness skills that has been the guiding principle for Sesame Street since the beginning.  These include:

1)  Knowledge of core academic content areas like literacy and math

2)  Behaviors across different areas for social, emotional, and health well-being

3)  Attitudes to encourage and develop lifelong learning

These elements are critical for successful child development and serve as the cornerstone of Sesame Street programming, in terms of local (U.S.) development, international development, and outreach materials.  With this foundation, Sesame Street can help children reach new heights with determination.

Sesame Street is relevant.

Children meet all kinds of challenges in all kinds of ways.  Some face hunger, others live through natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes.  No matter where the road takes us, Sesame Street works diligently to address the needs of children in numerous locations, in difficult situations, and in different cultures throughout the world.

For example, recognizing the needs of U.S. families working through military deployment, changes, and grieving, Sesame Workshop developed tools and materials called Talk, Listen, Connect to help families cope.

As such, Sesame Street consciously adjusts to the needs that are most relevant of children and their families.  It stays up to date with developmental trends as well as changes in society and circumstances, both near and far.

For example, Takalani Sesame takes on the epidemic of HIV/AIDS in South Africa with Kami, a 5-year-old yellow, furry muppet who also happens to be HIV positive.

Meet Kami and her friends on Takalani Sesame!

Meet Kami and her friends on Takalani Sesame!

The Long and Winding Road of Sesame Street

Is this how to get to Sesame Street?

Is this how to get to Sesame Street?

From a dream to a reality, Sesame Street has paved its way into the hearts and minds of children, parents, educators, and care-givers all over the world.  It has faced many critics and controversy over the years, and the road has not always been smooth.  But overwhelmingly, we can see the promise, success, and care that Sesame Street has shared with us throughout the years and over many, many miles.  I look forward to what the next 45 years will bring!  And maybe, just maybe, we’ll finally learn the way to Sesame Street – check out the video and tweets below.





Preschoolers and Active Video Games: Still learning

Providing educational opportunities for preschoolers is essential.  We are encouraged to read aloud to our preschoolers and share the love of reading with them every day.  We are urged to help our children be physically active at least an hour a day, and to limit our children’s media use to no more than 2 hours per day.  But what if we were able to use the media to get kids physically active and engage in literacy development?  LeapTV holds the potential to do this.

Coming to market soon, LeapTV is a game console targeted to children ages 3-8 years which combines attributes of X-Box Kinect within the educational framework of traditional LeapFrog games.

But LeapTV has big competition not only as an educational media platform, but also in the realm of entertainment media as well.

On the educational media platform side, we have a variety of preschool devices and gaming content.  Fisher-Price also has a series of technology devices aimed at getting kids active with an educational focus.  Remember these?

And what about preschool games for the X-Box Kinect?  Sesame Workshop has an X-Box game for parents and children:

In addition, journalist Stuart Dredge suggests that the entertainment media realm presents another challenge to the success of LeapTV.  Competing with Minecraft, Skylanders, and tablets, LeapTV faces a tough market.  Ultimately, Dredge concludes:

“LeapTV’s success will depend on how well it’s marketed to parents; the quality of its catalogue (including how many more big brands it can sign up); and whether there really is a demand from parents for a new children’s device under their TVs.”

For me, this raises the question of how do you define success.  In the marketplace, success is defined by the return on investment and the amount of sales of these products.  For parents, success may be measured by the amount of playtime the product gets in the home compared with other products.  For me, success is defined by the outcomes the play brings for the child.  Does the child become more active?  Do they learn from the game?  What do they learn from the game?  Does the activity interfere with the learning or support it?  I’m curious to see how this plays out for our preschoolers.  We know that some active games do have a positive impact on children’s activity (particularly their energy expenditure and heart rate), but most of these studies were conducted with older children, and no educational games (or educational outcomes) were tested.  We need more research on the younger crowd to help parents make informed decisions.  Let’s continue to work in this direction to explore active gaming for our little users, preschoolers.

Lights, Camera, Skype: The many uses of modern technology

For many years, landline telephone calls have been the primary way to reach out to folks for both business and pleasure.  College students called home to their parents.  Stock brokers called their clients.  And physicians called their patients.  However, today, new technologies have replaced the use of the traditional telephone.  Cell phone calls, texts, instant messaging, and even Skype and Facetime are more common ways to “talk” to others than traditional land lines.  In fact, many households no longer have landlines and only a handful of Americans say still can’t give up their landline (See Washington Post).  While most of us are familiar with using this kind of technology for social purposes, many of these have business applications as well.

Recently, my students and I visited Sixteen South, a producer of children’s media in Northern Ireland.  We learned that they used Skype to communicate to others around the world during the creation of Lily’s Driftwood BayColin Williams, Creative Director of Sixteen South, told us that during production, they would use Skype to coach the voice actors for their show.  The first few times the actors met face to face with Sixteen South during rehearsals and recordings of the voices for characters on the show.  However, the remaining voice recording sessions were conducted via Skype with members of Sixteen South giving direction to the actors online as the actors worked in another location.  The voice tracks would then be sent electronically to Sixteen South’s offices in Belfast to be used in the final production.  I was stunned!  I know that Skype has business applications, but I had never heard of it being used this way – in the actual production of children’s television.  AMAZING!

A few days later, I was using Skype myself, but in a less stunning way…to stay in touch with my family back in the states while I was traveling in Ireland with my students.  During my conversations with my family, my son would type his conversation using the messaging tool while my daughter would talk and wave at me through the audio and video connections.  My son quickly discovered the emoticons in the messaging system and began adding those to his typed messages.  I found it interesting that they both found a way that was most comfortable to them to share their thoughts and feelings with me.


My son is shy, so he found it easier to type rather than talk to convey his feelings.  My daughter is very expressive, so she was more comfortable talking than typing.  Yet both children were connecting and sharing in ways that put them at ease with the distance between us.

Technologies have provided a way for us to connect even though we are physically miles apart.  That connectivity can be achieved for business applications or personal ones, to give direction or to share love.  It is the same tool used differently by different folks in different places for different occasions all at the same time.  That which makes us different also makes us the same…all wanting to reach and connect in our own special way.

From Early Impressions to a Research Agenda: Children’s Media in my Life

5-year-old Nancy:  “Mommy, can we get a pet?”

Mom:  “What kind of pet would you like?”

5-year-old Nancy:  “An iguana.”

Mom:  “An iguana!  Like you saw on Sesame Street?”

5-year-old Nancy:  “Yes, just like on Sesame Street!”

It was clear from an early age that children’s media was going to have an influence on my life.  Little did I know then that I would be researching, writing, and teaching about it in the years to come.

Back in those days, there were only 3 major broadcast channels.  We had a television with a dial to change the channels and an antenna tower to capture the broadcast signal.  Today, my children have iPads with wifi internet access and digital cable to watch their favorite children’s channels.  Who could have imagined these changes?  While the times have changed, we have similar questions.  How do children understand the screen?  Do they see what others see?  What do they learn from those screens?  Are these screens harmful or helpful?

These questions are asked by parents, teachers, social workers, grandparents, and researchers alike….or as John Wright, one of my mentors, would say, “big people who care about little people.”  I happen to now be one of those people, and I wear many different hats.  I live and breathe children’s media in many, many ways.  I’m a parent.  I’m a sibling.  I’m a teacher.  I’m a researcher.  I’m an advocate, and I’ve been inspired.

Recently, I had the opportunity to watch Lisa Guernsey give a TED Talk.  In this talk, she focuses on the “Three C’s:  Content, Context, and the Child.”  These are all important for understanding the impact of media and technology.  What content is being viewed?  In what context?  By what child?  Guernsey suggests that every family should have access to a “Media Mentor” who can help families manage the media that is all around them.

I’m hopeful that this blog will provide a space for media mentoring to help us answer questions and take on different perspectives about media and technology in the lives of children and their families.  I will be sharing my thoughts, my observations, my research, my knowledge, and my inspirations here.  Please take this journey with me and share your ideas as well.  Together, we can learn about the different ways media is being used and understand how media works in the lives of families.