Home > Regular Columns > Talking Heads: NZ Children’s Screen Trust, 14 March 2016

Talking Heads: NZ Children’s Screen Trust, 14 March 2016

The Bigger Picture

With the announcement by NZOA of an EOI for an online platform/app to host NZ children’s content it is timely to remember the important role children’s local content plays in informing and inspiring our kids as well as entertaining them. In these financially straitened times it is evident that the money is not there to ‘go it alone’ with a dedicated channel for NZ children.

It remains to be seen whether there is a partner that is equal to the task of reaching the majority of Kiwi kids with free local content that is discoverable and engages them in a safe and trusted space. NZ children are not to get a PBS or an ABC Kids channel, or like Argentina, a Ministry of Education-funded Paka Paka channel. We have to hope instead that an organisation that has the wellbeing of children at its heart takes on the challenge to deliver this content to them and builds a brand that we can all be proud of and that kids will love.

Why do we think this is so important?

Dr Hassall writes:
The viewing fare children access across all media platforms is a considerable part of their total imaginative experience. Among all the things it provides them is cognitive, emotional and gestalt modelling of behaviour and an idea of the values on which such behaviour is based. Some children rely more than others on this experience to tell them how to behave. We know that if parents are close and discuss children’s viewing with them, and provide them with a wider range of social experiences it is more the parents’ values and behaviour that are transmitted than those of the television or internet.

But for some children, isolated for reason of neglect or temperament from the predominant influence of their family and community, television and the internet are the best guides they have. For these children, media experience is an opportunity to equip them with at least the basics of normal human behaviour. This is not to say that we need to provide didactic, overtly educational programmes that they would in all likelihood not watch, but that we have an obligation to ensure that as much material as possible that engages them, whether it be cartoon, fantasy, drama, or documentary has a grounding in fundamental human values. For it to be effective, what they see must be meaningful to them in their reality. Which means New Zealand stories that reference our diverse cultures as well as the children’s world.

My interest is children’s well-being and I have, over the years, had a lot to do with ill-treatment of children and the closely-related issue of domestic violence. We in New Zealand do not do well in these areas compared with other countries. There are complexities in why this might be, but at a fundamental level it is about poorly-conducted intimate relationships. In my studies I have come to believe that an important part of why other countries do better is that they have a more pervasive and effective means of transmitting, generation to generation, the models and rules of behaviour between family members.

Such transmission may be religion-based or simply traditional. In New Zealand, we have a culture, admirable in many respects, of making things up as we go along. To counteract the effect this has of leaving quite a few of our citizens not knowing (or caring) how to behave with their partners and children we should take positive steps. One potent means we have of resuming a generation to generation transmission of healthy family behaviour is through marshalling the talent we undoubtedly have to make and provide a range of material that reaches the isolated children in sufficient quality and quantity. It wouldn’t do any harm to the imaginative span and human potential of the rest of our children, either.

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Dr Ian Hassall is a New Zealand paediatrician and children’s advocate. He was New Zealand’s first Commissioner for Children from 1989 to 1994. His career has entailed working for children and their families as clinician, strategist, researcher and advocate. He was awarded the Aldo Farina Award by UNICEF in 2010 for his dedication to improving child welfare. He is a Founding trustee of the NZ Children’s Screen Trust. The Trust has been advocating for a home for children’s television (online or broadcast) and a revised children’s content policy.

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