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Q: I have a
6-year-old daughter whose early media years were spent watching carefully selected educational shows. Last year, she went to all-day kindergarten, where her teacher showed G-rated Disney movies and even some PG movies to “give the kids a break.” Our daughter was confused that these movies were shown in school and found the content disturbing. She was allowed to leave class during movies, but we remain concerned that the school seems to leave video entertainment to teacher discretion. Is there any research that would be helpful in guiding a school to make better, more deliberate media choices?

Caring about the Classroom in Santa Fe, New Mexico

A: Dear Caring,

As you imply, neither the fact that the movie is made by Disney nor the G-rating make the movie appropriate for kids this young.  Almost all Disney movies tell the story of a character losing someone (or something) important such as a parent (think Bambi and The Lion King). This kind of dramatic hook strikes right to the heart of children’s primal fears—and even when everything works out at the end, the fear has usually already set in. Given that and the fact that every single G-rated movie made between 1938 and 2000 contains interpersonal violence, it’s no wonder that your daughter was disturbed.

Showing these films in school raises questions of what’s appropriate for kids of certain ages, and in fact, even within age groups kids can have very different reactions.  But showing them how to create down time might be the larger issue. First of all, movie time is not down time. It may quiet kids, but it also has a tendency to get their minds worked up even if their bodies have slowed down.  In addition, research tells us that all media are educational, even when it's used for entertainment.  A child’s brain doesn’t shut off just because a movie has turned on. She learns from whatever she sees.

Secondly, you might wonder why kids' school down time is filled with media instead of recess or free play.  Using films as pure classroom entertainment does kids a disservice—films should be used as part of a rich educational experience, rather than as a “break” from it. For example, when learning about different kinds of sea creatures, a kid-focused documentary about dolphins could really bring the topic to life!

It sounds like your daughter is confused by the movies because they are being used for entertainment, not as a way to enrich a particular lesson. I recommend having a conversation with your daughter’s teacher, asking him or her to explain how showing movies in this way supports educational goals. You can certainly talk about the appropriateness of different kinds of films, but I would recommend that a more useful discussion would be about how films can be used in positive educational ways. An additional option would be to see if the teacher could provide alternative activities while the movie is playing.  This way, who choose not to watch the film are entertained in other ways and won't feel embarrassed to opt out of the movie.

>>See related question: My daughter got scared by a movie, what should we do?

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician

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