It is easy to statistically measure the effects of bad nutritional consumption, knowing one out of three children in the U.S. are considered overweight or obese. But how do we calculate the effects of an unhealthy diet of the mind? How do we measure mental nutrition?
Today it is very popular for people to focus on the importance of what children eat and how nutrition is important for the proper development of their bodies. The effects of junk food are substantial in a child’s life. Yet not enough attention is directed toward what is being fed to the minds of our youth. Meaningless entertainment, instead of judicious messages, dominates today. A constant barrage of nonsense influences children. The media resorts to cartoons that portray vomit as entertainment, books with intentionally poor grammar about an underwear-wearing super hero, and repugnant stories about a farting dog, highlighting and celebrating stupidity and meaningless trivia that hold absolutely no importance in life.
This is what many refer to as “Mind Garbage.” An immature ploy of “potty humor” seems to have replaced witty humor. Junk food for the mind is unquestionably accepted and often used as a distraction for children because of parents’ busy and stressful lives. Bored and unmotivated children tend to desire entertainment over engagement in learning. In today’s Age of Information true knowledge is scarce, and children are overwhelmed with foolish stories based on mindless material with little or no value.
Many people are quick to repeat the familiar saying, “Reading nonsense books is better than reading nothing at all!” This expresses apathy towards children’s literature (take what you can get). The more parents and other consumers express apathetic attitudes toward children’s books, the more publishers will publish books devoid of thought-provoking material.
We must ask ourselves, “What are these books teaching our children?” Is the fact that they are reading more important than what they are consuming psychologically? Would you sit a child in front of a TV and say, “What matters most is that he is attentive to what’s on the television,”? The focus of many popular stories today is centered on the dishonorable character, opposed to the virtuous character. We need to address what children are absorbing and determine its value for the present and the future.
Many books train children to think in fallacious or illogical ways. These books do not present problems objectively or logically. Instead, an authority figure directs what the children think and say. I believe we need to encourage children to think as individuals. Children must be made aware of the responsibilities of thinking for oneself and exercising the right to express oneself as an individual.
The nature of mainstream media promotes absurd behavior which, in turn, becomes the social norm for children. Instead of children developing discipline, vocabulary, patience, curiosity, and a sense of wonder, they are developing selfishness, greed, vanity, and narcissism.
Children are guided towards the questions of who, what, when and where, but unfortunately they are not encouraged to focus on why and how? Schools tend to emphasize rote memorization of factual information rather than providing an intellectual challenge.
Some might argue that children are reading at earlier ages today. But the level of reading is declining. Alarming research has shown teenagers use fewer than 800 words a day, when according to recent surveys, they know an average of 40,000 words. Popular books have simpler sentence structure, fewer and shorter words, and a simpler vocabulary.
Currently there is a fad dubbed “Kiddie Lit” whereby popular classics are rewritten with simpler language to appeal to children. This is a blatant insult to their intelligence. Dissecting the so-called “hard” words does our children a disservice. We are standing witness to the dilution of children’s literature and the subtle dumbing-down of future generations. As a community, it is our duty to consider the implications of watering down literature for children. I say we become more active and speak out as opposed to shaking our heads in the future and thinking–We’ve lost another generation.
“Dora the Explorer” is the best example of a children’s show that disproves the literary fallacy that certain words are too hard for children to comprehend and verbalize. It is accepted and celebrated in our society that Dora, the fictional explorer, helps children develop a Spanish vocabulary with words like cuidado, lo hicimos, las estrellas, vamonos, and la familia, but at the same time we believe English words like luminous, famished, bewilderment, and deceive are too complex for children to understand.
In truth, society expects little of youth and, in turn, provides little care and support for them. Children today experience a sense of being powerless, undervalued and incapable of extraordinary achievements. Often their personal interests are overlooked as they are steered toward the next big trend. Careful reflection is pushed to the wayside in order to meet busy schedules. Education should not be a laundry list of skills to check off in boxes. Education needs to be appropriate for the child, family, culture and community where they live. The system should embrace critical thinking, logic, and deductive reasoning.
“We are creating a society that is over-entertained, under-educated, and distracted,” exclaims Nathan Janes from his studio near the coast of Lake Erie. Janes, a writer, artist, and social critic living in Port Clinton, Ohio, is creating a book that will enrich and expand the vocabulary of children, encourage them to exercise reasoning, and ask them contemplate the virtues of morality.
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His book, Kingfisher and Wren, will be a collection of verses that shares valuable knowledge for children, and reinforces the knowledge in adults, about the tenets of courage, perseverance, responsibility, self-discipline, honesty, and love. Funding opportunities for Kingfisher and Wren are currently available on Kickstarter.com.
It is my hope that Kingfisher and Wren will become an enduring treasury of literature that everyone will enjoy.
Janes also points out,
One of the biggest threats is today’s on-demand children’s television programming. It’s possible children will rely on instant gratification instead of learning at a normal pace. When I was a child in the early 1980’s, children’s programming was available a couple hours in the morning before school, a couple hours after school and Saturday morning. Today, we live in a world were households have personal libraries of DVD/Blue-ray media for the children. In addition, cable TV and satellite run cartoons and children’s programming twenty four-seven. With advancements in technology, you can instantly stream cartoons shows to your TV and hand held devices with the help of service providers, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Redbox anytime you like.
Nathan’s observations serve as a warning. Research shows that the number of parents choosing to read children’s bedtime stories is declining. Stories beginning with once upon a time provided an opportunity for parents to bond with their children. Now reading to children before they go to sleep is dramatically declining in popularity. Two of the top reasons for this decline are stress and lack of time, but many parents will admit that using the TV remote to pacify their children in order to lull them into sleep is a much easier option.
Television viewing can discourage and replace reading because it requires less thinking and more watching. Reading, however, plays an important role in healthy development. Children whose families have the TV on constantly exhibit lack of interest in reading as well lower-level reading skills.
Studies by researcher Herbert Krugman have shown that within thirty seconds of watching television, brain waves switch from predominantly beta waves—indicating alert and conscious attention—to predominantly alpha waves—indicating an unfocused, receptive lack of attention.
While watching TV, the mind experiences what is known as “brain drain,” the process of turning your mental state into a blank, empty nothingness. Researchers postulate that watching television is similar to staring at a blank wall for several hours. By simply turning off the television and reading, our brains enter into a beta state linked to logical and critical thinking.
Philosophers believe philosophical enquiry can significantly improve the quality of critical consciousness in our youth. Children need encouragement to express their individuality. Our first priority should be to promote critical thinking in children. Children face the disquieting threat of deferring what they truly believe in order to conform to the mainstream media views. As children grow and begin to question the world around them, the media works to subvert this natural inquisition, teaching them to become more passive in their behavior and discouraging questioning.
John F. Kennedy said, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”
It is true. Children are innocent and their minds fertile. Through proper nurturing and supervision, their discoveries will guide us to a brighter tomorrow. Through adults cultivating a fertile path in their minds, children will begin to gain knowledge, wisdom, and insight, as opposed to idiocy and nonsense. The groundwork for imparting good virtues, values and morals must be created and supported or posterity will increasingly wane.
As the Spectacled Eider from Kingfisher and Wren would say, “Let us plant the seed of intellect so that it flourishes within children, helping them to reach their full potential.”
Link to Nathan’s project: KingfisherAndWren.com
To reach author Kip Louder: [email protected]