Peggy O'Mara on Wise Media Choices for Children
Photo credit: D. Long Photography
I met Peggy O’Mara years ago when she was the publisher and editor of Mothering Magazine. I was moved by the wisdom in her writings. She felt like the perfect person to ask about what she is observing regarding the effects of our current media on our children.
Sylvia: What is the effect of media on child development?
Peggy: Good stories can open children to the world of their imagination. Classic books for children that have beautiful illustrations, inspiring characters, and an uplifting, universal message can be enriching for children. In contrast, television and film are overstimulating for young children and overpower the images they create in their own minds. Too much media too early can stunt a child’s capacity for imagination and creativity. It can even cause premature maturation. The child’s real work is not to be passive, but to be active and to play in an uninhibited and self-directed way.
Sylvia: What would you change in the current films intended for kids?
Peggy: I would bring back wonder. I would banish the “Disney eyes,” the large, disproportionate, alien eyes that all animated Disney characters have and return to the wonderful world of hand drawn animation, such as that done by the genius, Hayao Miyazaki. I would also like to see a return to more wholesome movies like The Sound of Music or The Wizard of Oz, movies enjoyed by the whole family. Children’s movies today cater to an adult audience. They are often far too cynical with in-jokes for adults, and pacing and fast cuts that overwhelm the senses. I would also like to see more public conversation about how inappropriate, even abusive, it is to bring children to some adult films. And, no more crying babies as “actors” in films. These are babies, not actors. What are their parents thinking?
Sylvia: I can empathize where you are coming from. That is the dilemma with storytelling. Sometimes the story requires a crying baby. Studio teachers are on set at all times insuring the safety of the baby and a lot of TLC and care is given. The parent is also on the set at all times. But I understand that you mean, it is the emotional trauma to think about. I have never put a crying baby in one of my films. I wonder if it can be handled with sensitivity? The cinematographer could get a quick shot of the baby just as they start crying because, say, he/she needs a diaper change...and then they give the baby that diaper change immediately after getting the quick shot, without any more than the usual wet diaper annoyance. The best and the only real safe solution would be to just hear a baby crying without seeing it. For most scenes they do take several takes. It could become more stressful for the baby if handled that way. I understand why you would be concerned. What most people don't realize, and will be relieved to hear, is that scenes with babies come with a lot of safety rules and regulations to follow by law and are treated with much care.
My next question for you is also about parenting. Why is it critical that parents make sure their children balance media consumption with other activities?
Peggy: If parents do not balance their child’s media consumption, they risk creating an insatiable consumer, one who fears thinking originally and bows to conformity. Too much consumption of television and movies can overstimulate and stress a child’s nervous system. When children are chronically overstimulated from using electronics, they become dysregulated and have difficulty managing their mental state, modulating their mood, sleeping deeply and tolerating stress. This is true for passive screen time like watching movies, but also, and even more so, for interactive screen time, which can cause sleep issues, problems with concentration and meltdowns. If you’re having trouble with these things at your house, try a screen fast as described in Victoria Dunckley’s Reset Your Child’s Brain and/or check out the suggestions at Screen Free Week.
Sylvia: Thank you Peggy! It was wonderful talking to you.
Peggy O’Mara is an award winning journalist who was the Editor and Publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. In 1995 she founded mothering.com and was its editor-in-chief until 2012. Peggy's books include Natural Family Living, Having a Baby Naturally and A Quiet Place. Currently, Peggy works with the Global Women’s Strike and the Children’s Defense Fund to advocate for a care income for mothers and other caregivers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of three. Her current writing can be found on Medium. Website