Author: Jacques Brodeur, January 14 2014     In this modern hypermediated world, the entertainment industry consider children's attention as a merchandise to be caught by television networks in order to be sold to marketers. How can society help children escape such attractive prisons? 

Starting with the intrusion of television in most homes in North America and all over the world, three industries gradually established their own collaborative strategy. Let's summarize it briefly. Broadcasters would try to increase their audiences, producers would provide programs and series that would attract bigger portions of spectators, marketers would pay more to reach wider portions of spectators.

Year after year, new contents would be offered to the public in a manner similar to the way fishermen try various baits to catch their next meal. Gradually, financial appetite of broadcasters nourished an increasing rivalry between networks to attract more children and adolescents. For corporations, this is nothing but ordinary business. The same three industries cooperated to win the race for prime time youth audiences. They were in the commerce of catching children's attention.

No surprise that Sponge Bob and other cartoons were found to increase probabilities of attention deficit disorder. After entertaining kids, Bob could be sold to sell cereals with little or no value for young people's health. ADHD [attention deficit disorder] is not the only damage. Keeping kids watching Bob and other cartoon characters on screens is also major factor of sedentarity, and the cost is high: overweight problems and obesity worldwide. Modern kids spend more time watching the tube than attending school.

Furthermore, in order to keep kids glued to the tube, the entertainment industry used ultra violent heroes, unable to solve conflicts without killing villains. GI Joe and Transformers carry well over 80 acts of aggression per hour. Not to mention Pokemon, Batman, Spiderman. And Xman and so many stereotyped heroes for boys.

Violence was not the only hook to grab kids' attention. Television (MTV) and the music industry  also used female icons showing girls how they must behave in order to become popular. Spice Girls, Britney Spear and Lady Gaga taught very young girls in to early seuxualisation. As financial profits for broadcasters, producers and marketers increased, social cost for society also increased, as the number of overweight kids and aggressive students have rapidly increased in schools all over North America and Europe. Not to mention how little girls became targeted into hypersexualisation as well. 

To prevent the three mentioned industries from abusing children, civil society tried various approaches. Petitions asking governments to regulate programs and movies for children was only one of them. Other actions have been taken with actual but not sufficient impact. 

In 2001, one particular action came from the scientific community to help kids escape from screen-prison. Dr Thomas Robinson from Stanford University published the conclusions of his research in the JAMA in 1999 and in 2001. He brought evidence showing how screen-time reduction, mixed with media education, could actually help children avoid the increasing power of modern corporate child predators. Evidence of abuse came from the use of recent knowledge in psychology and neurology to take advantage of young people's numerous vulnerabilities. 

While the S.M.A.R.T. program (Student Media Awareness to Reduce Television) showed great benefits for children in California, the 10-Day Screen-Free Challenge did the same in Canada. Created in 2003 by a regional association of parents along with Edupax, screen-time reduction was experienced in 12 schools. In participating schools, cooperation between parents, teachers and community organisations was required. Training students for screen freedom (TV turn-off) is similar to an Olympic record or a championship tournament against professionals from the entertainment-marketing industries. Students learn how to count their points by cooperating instead of competing. They experience freedom away from screen-prisons used to catch their own brain-time.

In 2008, the Screen-Free Challenge found its way across the Atlantic. One first elementary school experienced it in Strasbourg and results were astounding. Parents and children obtained more attention from the media than rioters known for record number of car burnings in a quarter with high crime rate and low income.

In the 5 following years, well over 140 schools have experienced the Challenge in France. Added to the one hundred participating schools in Quebec, the Challenge is only the beginning of a worldwide uprising opposing two teams, if not two armies: on one side, 3 predatorial industries working behind screens. On children's side of screens, the citizen's team, including four  allies: students, parents, teachers, community organisations in the fields of recreation, crime prevention, health promotion, social clubs,….               

Nelson Mandela suffered in prison and finally got out to increase the struggle to free his people from apartheid and poverty. In a similar manner, parents and teachers in today's hypermediated world keep fighting to help children survive, live and reach happiness in a commercial-free world.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.
I hope someday you join us and the world will live.... 

Jacques Brodeur, Edupax, Quebec, Canada
Daily news from the Quebec section of ACME, the Action Coalition for Media Education