Blog Posts by Common Sense Media

  • Bring History to Life

    Books, Movies, TV Shows and Games that Make Kids Love History

    Memorizing facts and figures often makes learning history a chore for kids. It's the stories of human struggles and triumphs that truly make the past come alive. This month, with kids learning about African-American history -- as well as enjoying the Presidents' Day holiday -- we love finding ways to help kids experience history on a personal level. These recommendations add a human dimension that make the stories not just memorable but relatable as well.

    Kids of all ages will revel in the uplifting poetry of Langston Hughes in his celebratory poem "My People" -- just one of the outstanding titles on our list of Award-Winning African-American Books .

    Our selected Civil Rights books offer lessons in courage -- and controversy -- for kids as young as 4 with stories about prominent figures Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and more.

    For older kids, movies like A Raisin in the Sun and I Know Why the

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  • Sexting: When Kids Go Too Far

    That picture's not as private as you think

    • 22% of teen girls and 20% of teen boys have sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves over the Internet or their phones.
    • 22% of teens admit that technology makes them personally more forward and aggressive.
    • 38% of teens say exchanging sexy content makes dating or hooking up with others more likely.
    • 29% of teens believe those exchanging sexy content are "expected" to date or hook up.
    • (All of the above are from CosmoGirl and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2009.)

    What Is "Sexting?"

    Most teens today are comfortable with documenting their lives online. Posting photos, updating their status messages, sharing rapid-fire texts, and being a click away from friends are the new normal for teens. But this "always on" culture also creates an environment where teens can make impulsive decisions that can come back to haunt them. One example of this has been in the news a lot lately: sexting.

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  • Sweet Ideas for Valentine's Day

    Movies and Books to Share

    Surprising your kids with a Valentine's Day treat is one of the sweetest perks of parenthood. And while candy and cards are nice, nothing says "be mine" like spending time together. That's why we love these ideas for sharing a few laughs, a few lessons, and maybe a few tears of joy.

    Our favorite books for story time teach preschoolers the real meaning behind Valentine's Day. Mary Engelbreit's adorable illustrations make Queen of Hearts a feast for the eyes, while the high-spirited kitty in Love, Splat will give kids lots of laughs.

    Kids of all ages will sympathize with the romantic ups and downs that occupy the star-crossed characters of A Charlie Brown Valentine . And for kids under 8, our movie picks celebrating platonic affection -- Friendship Movies: Lovey Dovey Flicks Without the Mush -- are a fun way to honor St. Valentine.

    Classic movies offer a perfect way to observe the romantic rituals of a bygone era. You'll find a mix of

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  • Facebook Games for Kids?

    The Facebook Connection That's Reeling in Kids

    Remember Oregon Trail -- the computer game in which you make your virtual way across the historic East-West wagon route without dying from dysentery or losing too many people? Since its debut in the early 1970s, the game has had many incarnations -- from basic computer program to iPhone app -- all the while teaching kids about U.S history and entertaining them along the way.

    Continuing its march toward progress, Oregon Trail has now arrived on Facebook. And not to be outdone, another classic, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, is hot on its heels. While they're being marketed as nostalgic faves for grown-ups, they're also part of a growing and disturbing trend: kids' games and apps that connect to Facebook.

    In a strange turn of events, it's not the content of the game that's of concern, but where the game needs to be played. I know plenty of kids have Facebook pages -- and clearly, game developers know this, too -- but am

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  • How TV Can Save Your Daughter (Sort of)

    A Quest for Posititve Female Role Models on TV

    When my 6-year-old daughter told me she hates her "fat thighs" the other morning, part of me wanted to cry ("She's only 6!" I kept thinking). The other part of me wanted to boycott every TV show, movie, website, and magazine that shows a severely limited picture of girls and women - teaching my daughter that girls come in only one body type, or one color, or one personality.

    While I know media isn't the only culprit when it comes to shaping girls' opinions about themselves, it sure is a strong force. Knowing how important it is to offer my own messages to the mix when it comes to body image and positive female role models, I tried the discussion approach with my daughter.
    On the way home from school, I struck up a conversation about genetics. I told her how the shape of our bodies - at least to some extent - reflect the bodies of our mothers, our grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. I shared (in edited form) some of my

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  • Tough Talk: How Parents Can Use MTV's Skins as a Jumping Off Point

    MTV's teen drama Skins (a remake of the even edgier British series) showcases every behavior that keeps parents of teenagers up at night. Actors the same age as your own kids are up their on the screen talking like your teens, playing roles that your teens will recognize from their peers in high school, and doing things that you don't want them to do. Ever.

    Talking to your teens frankly about Skins will be a challenge even for seasoned parents who've managed to pull teachable lessons out of The O.C. and Gossip Girl. That's because by time they're 16 and 17, parents' role in their teens' lives migrates from Commander in Chief to Chief Consultant. Parents lose control over them -- which is scary but also normal and healthy as they separate from Mom and Dad and become more independent.

    That said, we can't give up being their parents, which means we have to have increasingly difficult conversations about all kinds of things that neither we nor our teens particularly want to talk about

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  • Is It Really Smart to Give Kids Your Old Smartphone?

    I'm the baby of my family, so I was the one who got the hand-me-downs. Nearly every winter coat and pair of snow boots passed from my brother to my sister to me. And while I can't say I loved a certain threadbare, brown corduroy jacket, it kept me warm, and it sure helped me understand the value of a dollar.

    Today's kids still get secondhand stuff, but when it comes to high-tech devices, "previously owned" can be very advanced. Once kids get a taste of a maybe-not-the-latest-but-still-pretty-cool device, it's a quick jump to the stuff that younger ones may not be ready for, like social networking, massively multiplayer online games, video chatting, and location services. But that's hard to explain when they've just received the device that gives them entrée into that world -- from you.

    I'm not pointing fingers, because we do it in our family, too.

    My husband's old iPod Touch became my son's when hubby moved up to a smartphone with a built-in MP3 player. My son was 11 and

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  • Sanity, Not Censorship: Standing Up for the Original Huckleberry Finn

    We founded Common Sense Media on the belief that sanity, not censorship, would best help our kids navigate the complex world of entertainment, media, and technology. So you can imagine our reaction to the edited version of Mark Twain's classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that was announced this month -- the one that replaces the word "----- " with "slave" and removes the word "Injun." Professor Alan Gribben at Auburn University, whose work this is, said he felt that these changes would result in keeping Huck Finn on bookshelves and reading lists.

    This sanitized edit of a classic novel amounts to censorship. At Common Sense, we believe that we can't cover our kids' eyes -- it's up to us as informed parents and teachers to teach them to see. But to do so means that kids, teens, parents, and teachers need trustworthy information about a book or movie or game, and they need tools to discuss media's contents and meaning. Knowledge is power. And we hear from librarians, teachers,

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  • How To Talk To Your Kids About the News

    Age-by-age guidance to easing the impact of news on kids

    It's impossible to measure the impact of news on kids. But we know as adults that the 24-hour news cycle can distort and sensationalize the news, making it difficult to put into perspective for ourselves -- let alone our kids. For children, whose world views are mostly limited to their own experiences, the constant, relentless focus on specific news events makes them seem larger than life. As a result, kids may feel threatened, unsafe, fearful, and anxious.

    With kids getting their information everywhere from the 5 o'clock news to Twitter, Facebook, and even feeds to their cell phones and email programs, the news may even take on the quality of entertainment, as everyone from political figures to rap artists weigh in.

    As parents, it's our job to help kids, no matter what age, to feel safe. Depending on your kids' ages and temperaments, you can to talk about the images and content they see and hear. Having kids keep

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  • When the Movies Don't Match the Ratings

    When my friends complain about hearing a baby cry during an R-rated movie ("what were those parents thinking?!"), I waste no time chiming in. But I have a confession: My son saw his first R-rated movie when he was only 11. You might say I'm a bad mom, but before you judge my decision, consider the circumstances.

    The movie in question was The Informant!, a twisty tale of corporate espionage starring Matt Damon. I couldn't think of a good reason for the R rating so I checked Common Sense Media (yes, I really use our reviews!). We rate The Informant! ON for age 15 and "iffy" for age 14, mainly due to a liberal sprinkling of F-bombs and a graphic conversation on an airplane.

    Now, if it were any other kid, or any other R movie, I probably wouldn't have made the choice to watch it. But I know my son: He isn't the type to imitate what he hears on screen, and he has the ability to follow a complex storyline. Personally, I'm not too bothered by language (my bugaboo is gratuitous

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