Posted

This post was written by guest blogger Shelly Vaziri Flais, MD, FAAP. She is the author of the American Academy of
Pediatrics book
Raising Twins, From Pregnancy to Preschool – Advice from a
Pediatrician Mom of Twins
.  She also blogs at
www.pediatricianmomoftwins.blogspot.com

As a child, I attended school with a pair of identical twins, and naively wondered if they could read each other’s minds.  Later on as a middle-schooler, my friends and I devoured the Sweet Valley High book series about the Wakefield twins, which later ran as a television series, and is buzzed to be a movie in the works. In the common "good twin/bad twin" stereotype, Elizabeth was a “good girl,” but Jessica often schemed and showed her wild side.  I had limited exposure to twins in the real world, yet viewed plenty of dramatic representations on TV (Super Friends: “Wonder Twin powers activate!”) and in the movies (Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining famously using the image of twins as a sign of foreboding). As a result of what I read and saw in media, I perceived twins to be magical and mysterious.

Raising Twins
Fast-forward a couple of decades later: I am now a lucky mom of 4, including a set of identical twins.  Twins are more common today than ever before; the twin birth rate rose 42% between 1990 and 2004.  If you are not a parent of twins, you likely know someone who is.  Each of my twins is a complex, textured individual with a unique identity, and knowing each boy within the depth of our parent-child relationship, I understand that being a twin is only one facet of their hundreds of interesting personal quirks. 

Our own preconceived ideas, as reinforced by decades of what we've seen and heard in the media, can shape our parenting style.  In the case of twins, some of us may bring our newborns home from the hospital thinking that it is “standard twin procedure” to dress the babies alike from day 1.  On the contrary, I advise parents to make efforts starting in the early years to nurture each of their twins as an individual.  Yes, there have been countless twins featured on TV and in movies who dress identically, but I recommend making such parenting decisions independent of the media's tendency to treat twins as a “unit.”  Simple daily steps that emphasize the individuality of each of your kids benefits their self-esteem and healthy emotional growth in the long run.

What Media Can and Do Teach Us about Others
Kids’
perceptions of themselves and of the people around them are influenced
by media portrayals of gender, race, ethnicity, disability, class,
sexuality, and other identities. An important role we play as parents is helping our kids responsibly navigate and interpret what they see in the media.  Watch programming with your kids, and discuss, in an age-appropriate way, different characters and how they are portrayed.  Are all twins jokesters like Fred and George Weasley in the Harry Potter series? Or good and evil counterparts such as PBS Kids’ Ruff and Scruff Ruffman?  If you know a set of twins in your circle of extended family or friends, use them as real-world examples.

Not all media representations are negative or misleading, and with a little homework, parents can even use TV or movies as an educational tool.  For example, when Dora the Explorer became a big sister, she was surprised to gain not one, but two new siblings (boy-girl twins)!  This Dora episode is a helpful way to prepare a preschooler who will soon become a big sibling to multiples.  Look for positive, realistic, and age-appropriate examples of characters when watching programming with your kids.  If you see a scenario that doesn’t agree with your family’s principles, use it as a talking point to discuss the issue.             

Media surround us, and parents can use them selectively and wisely to open family discussions about human behaviors and interaction. Most importantly, emphasize to your kids that each of us has a unique
spirit that defines who we really are. 

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