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Children, Media, Health, and An Exciting New Kids’ Film App

I’ll be honest, this Health Tip starts out grim and depressing. That doesn’t give you permission to do a quick-draw on the delete button and move to the safety of your Facebook page. Listen up. Somewhere in your life, you’re probably involved with kids. They may not be your very own, but maybe you’re an aunt or you’ve got cousins. Maybe you have friends who have kids.

Truly civilized societies aver that all adults are responsible for all children, blood kin or not. That said, this piece will end on a very positive note.

Today I’m going to tell you that we’re highly inattentive to the absorptive capacities of the brains of children and young people. In addition, we don’t seem to grasp the power of whatever’s absorbed to shape future behavior. Images have entered your own brain and remain stuck there like barnacles. Right this second, conjure up Cap’n Crunch, Bert and Ernie, Homer Simpson, the Jolly Green Giant, and those irritating animated M&M’s. Can’t get rid of them, right? Those, and thousands more, are there until you die.

If you’ve got a relative over 70, ask him to sing the Texaco theme song from the Milton Berle Show (which hasn’t been on TV for almost 60 years) and you’ll get an idea what I mean. Creepy, eh?

Kids and media: old, new, undreamed of
When you read the following statistics on media and kids, you might feel a wave of nausea. By media, of course, I mean not only old media like TV, movies, and magazines, but also new media outlets including the internet and social networking sites, video/computer games, and cell phones.

Numerous studies have shown that media contact adversely affects virtually every mental and physical health concern that parents (and society as a whole) have about young people, including aggression, risky sexual behavior, substance use, disordered eating, school performance, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Here’s a sampling, from this article in the journal Pediatrics:

  • Kids and teens spend more time with media (seven-plus hours daily) than any other activity except sleeping.
  • The last large study (2009) showed 99% of US homes had one or more TVs and that 93% of kids were online with videos, social media, and buying things. 97% of kids play video games on a computer or handheld device. Unsupervised TV and internet access in children’s bedrooms is the norm.
  • The average child will see 200,000 acts of violence by the time she reaches 18. Much of that violence is presented in a sanitized, glamorous fashion, and in children’s programming it’s often presented as humorous. In fact, children’s programming is the most violent, averaging 20 acts of violence per hour.
  • TV and video games encourage violence as the best means of problem solving. Kids don’t learn peaceful negotiation—they learn that violence solves disputes. Even games approved for children contain violence. A teenaged school shooter in Paducah, KY, had actually never fired a real gun. Rather, he’d learned marksmanship from video games.
  • Do all children watching violence become aggressive? No. But the correlation between media violence and aggressive behavior is actually almost as strong as the correlation between smoking and lung cancer.
  • TV’s advertising budget aimed at children is estimated to be $12 billion annually, with $100 million spent by Burger King and Cap’n Crunch cereal alone.
  • From ages two to four, children watch an average of three hours of TV daily. Compare this with the 5 minutes per week parents spend with their children in meaningful conversation. Parents aren’t winning any awards either, by the way. Not when they spend most of their time online when they take their kids to playgrounds. Kids yelling “Look at me!” from atop a jungle gym are lucky if they can pry mom or dad’s eyes away from the phone.
  • 40% of three-month-olds and 90% of two-year-olds regularly watch TV. Shockingly, 65% of children over 8 have a TV in their bedroom. Even worse, 20% of young parents leave a TV on all night next to their infant’s crib.
  • Interactive media has led to an increase in bullying and risky behaviors. Both internet and cable provide immediate access to pornography, sexual violence, and substance abuse.
  • Media, especially TV watching, contributes strongly to the current epidemic of obesity, the tragic result of a combination of inactivity and non-stop marketing of low-nutrition, high-fat, high-sugar foods. Add to this the problem of body image and eating disorders as young people attempt to emulate the super-thin and often cigarette-smoking actors they see everywhere.
  • Heavy TV watching has been linked not only with obesity, but also deconditioned muscles, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol in children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “parents establish screen-free zones at home by making sure there are no televisions, computers or video games in children’s bedrooms, and by turning off the TV during dinner. Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play.”

And yet…and yet

Media can be a positive force
Despite the negative effects listed above, media can be powerfully prosocial and educational. Sesame Street has made major inroads in reading achievement scores. With well considered media, children can learn antiviolence attitudes, empathy, tolerance toward people of other races and ethnicities, and respect for elders. Important, useful messages can be successfully embedded in both movies and TV.

Which brings me to one of our city’s best-kept secrets, the not-for-profit Chicago International Children’s Film Festival (CICFF), starting this week. With a fraction of the advertising budget of its grown-up counterpart, you may not have heard of the CICFF, but likely your children and their teachers are well aware of it. Now in its 31st year, the CICFF is a juried show, with both adult and child jurors, that since its inception has brought together thousands of high-quality nonviolent and nonsexist films from filmmakers around the world.  (I’m proud to be a member of the CICFF volunteer board.)

With screening venues around the city, busloads of kids are brought from neighborhoods far and wide for afternoons of total delight. Ticket sales over the years have exceed the half-million mark, and many kids attend on scholarship.

Click here to download the current program and, of course, if you have a kid handy wrench her away from the TV to go enjoy some quality movies.

Facets Kids app
The big new event on the horizon for the CIFCC is its creation of an app that allows streaming access to more than 1,000 of its very best festival entries. Films range from a minute or two up to feature length. Your child can select a film appropriate for her age and then select from the topics “I want to laugh,” “I want to be scared!” or “I want to think.”

Called Facets Kids, the alpha version is available to download to your child’s ipad. Ultimately, Facets Kids will be a low-cost monthly or annual subscription ($6/month, $50/year). Concerned grownups can be assured there will be no worrisome content ever, and no advertisements of any kind. That kids will be exposed to media is inevitable, but given the risks of what’s out there Facets Kids will be a safe harbor of education and entertainment. Your kids really can avoid the media world of flying bullets, kicks to the face, explicit sex, and Cap’n Crunch, developing a taste for exceptional filmmaking in the process.

Today, Facets Kids launches its fundraising Kickstarter campaign. Take a quick look and you’ll get a sampling of the media it’s possible for your kids to enjoy. And if your boss isn’t peering over your shoulder, watch the video about Facets Kids produced by kids themselves.

And if you liked what you saw as much as I did, Back the Project.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD


  1. Alrighty!

    It’s up to you.
    Any amount of $1 or more.
  2. Select your reward
    1. No thanks, I just want to help the project.

    2. Special Thanks! – Receive a special thank you from Facets Director Milos Stehlik via email, name on Facets homepage credited as a Facets Kids pioneer

      Estimated delivery:

    3. The Sampler – Receive the short film “Mirage” via email to download, name on homepage

      Estimated delivery:

    4. Ships within the US only

      Show Your Support – For smart films for smart kids with a set of exclusive Facets Kids stickers, the short film “Mirage”, credit as pioneer on homepage.

      Estimated delivery:

    5. Ships within the US only

      Wear Your Support – Wear your support on your sleeve with an exclusive Facets Kids T-Shirt, set of stickers, short film “Mirage”, and credit as pioneer on homepage.

      Estimated delivery:

    6. Ships within the US only

      Facets Kids Starter Pack – One Year Subscription to Facets Kids on the iPad, set of exclusive stickers, name on the homepage

      Estimated delivery:

    7. Ships within the US only

      Android-Lovers Pack – “Best of the Fest” DVD, set of exclusive stickers, name on the homepage

      Estimated delivery:

    8. Ships within the US only

      CICFF Super Fans – Family Pass to the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival in October 2015, One Year Subscription to Facets Kids, name on the homepage. (Travel fees not included)

      Estimated delivery:

    9. Ships within the US only

      App Lovers Pack – Flip Boom’s animation app for the iPad, One year subscription to Facets Kids, credit on homepage.

      Limited (48 of 50 remaining)

      Estimated delivery:

    10. Ships within the US only

      You selected

      iPad Lovers Pack – Speck® iGuy iPad cover, One Year Subscription to Facets Kids, exclusive stickers, name on homepage

      Limited (99 of 100 remaining)

      Estimated delivery:

    11. Ships within the US only

      From the Filmmakers – Limited edition, high-resolution printed stills from 1 of 4 films signed by respective filmmakers, One Year Subscription to Facets kids

      Limited (40 of 40 remaining)

      Estimated delivery:

    12. Ships within the US only

      Cracking Animation – “Cracking Animation: The Aardman Book of 3-D Animation” signed by the three animators including Nick Park (Creator of Wallace and Gromit), One Year Subscription to Facets Kids,…view more

      Limited (5 of 5 remaining)

      Estimated delivery:

    13. Happy Birthday! – Birthday party at Facets Cinematheque with popcorn and movies, One Year Subscription to Facets Kids

      Limited (12 of 12 remaining)

      Estimated delivery:

    14. Ships within the US only

      Signed prints from illustrator Peter Sis from his most recent book “The Pilot and the Little Prince.”

      Limited (10 of 10 remaining)

      Estimated delivery:

    15. Adopt a Classroom! – One Year School Subscription to Facets Kids, classroom curriculum for teachers, Facets-led media literacy workshop (for local Chicago schools, this will be in-person classroom …view more

      Estimated delivery:

    16. Ships within the US only

      An original photograph of Peter O’Toole riding a bicycle taken and signed by Leonard Malten, One Year Subscription to Facets Kids

      Limited (1 of 1 remaining)

      Estimated delivery:

    17. Artist and animator Angie Haush will create a short, personalized animation featuring your child and their favorite activity or thing.

      Limited (10 of 10 remaining)

      Estimated delivery:

    18. Interview with Herby the Elf or Larry the Zombie – Motus Digital Studio will animate the contributor in a scene with one their characters. This will be conducted via Skype, no travel required.

      Limited (1 of 1 remaining)

      Estimated delivery:

    19. Private Film Mentoring Session with Steve James, One Year Subscription to Facets Kids *Travel expenses not included

      Limited (1 of 1 remaining)

      Estimated delivery:

    20. Six-month filmmaking mentorship with Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Jill Godmilow. Based in New York City but can also be by mail or phone. Limited to 10 hours over 6 months.

      Limited (1 of 1 remaining)

      Estimated delivery:

    21. All gone!

      Lunch with Ken Burns in NYC for 4 Guests and Facets Kids One Year Subscription. *Traveling expenses are not included in this tier.

      Limited (0 of 1 remaining)

      Estimated delivery:

    22. 2-Hour Private Film Mentoring Session with Werner Herzog, One Year Subscription to Facets Kids *Travel expenses not included

      Limited (1 of 1 remaining)

      Estimated delivery:


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