Deconstructing Thanksgiving Stereotypes: The Mediatrician Is In

PilgrimNov. 25, 2015 Update: Couldn’t resist this timely SNL Adele Thanksgiving skit slamming stereotypes…Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Nov. 27, 2014 Update: Favorite post to add this year for 2014 comes from Marti Weston’s Media! Tech! Parenting! site on gratitude and digital life. Perfect way to continue our November thankfulness posts of positive picks in media/marketing… 

Nov. 19, 2013 Update: Adding a few new resources to “prepare for deconstructing myths and legends” as Roots of Justice points out with critical thinking and BliuHarp Media reminds in a media literacy checklist that springboards off of the HP Teacher Experience Exchange.

Also check out: Getting the “Indian” out of the Cupboard on using information literacy from Teacher Librarian (a great 8pp pdf that folds in film treatment and literature as well as multiple movie references) and the bounty of resources and ideas for activities at Media Literacy Week.Ca. “Teach your children well.”

Original Post Nov. 22, 2010 Let’s face it, media can serve up a lot of turkeys when it comes to stereotypes, historic context and accuracy of events, so I’m extremely thankful this Thanksgiving for media literacy, the wonder web and organizations that embody the use of balanced, critical thinking skills rather than preach-n-teach pedagogy.

Whether it’s media using editorial cartoons to lob the past into present day current events, American versus Canadian meanings of Thanksgiving, or educators reframing lessons of the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock with nuance that challenges suppositions (see EducationWorld curriculum article) it seems we should ALL be thankful for the freedom to interpret, engage, and interact with the holiday far beyond traditional fare of what’s served en masse to homogenized palatability.

Like pumpkin pie, football games and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, (remember our ‘tweens/participant’ post about what happens behind the scenes at the parade?) some will gobble up the banquet of offerings and feast on the festive flavors of media storytelling, while others prefer minimalist basics to mirror the ancestral beginnings of living off the land…

…Point is, we have the FREEDOM to choose whether or not we buy into media regalia, deep dive into familial discussions about immigration, religious persecution, land grabs and bullying, use the wonder web to deconstruct the multiple stereotypes ditch the over-thinking and create our own meanings within our own families. Be thankful!

Since Carmen Van Kerckhove, Founder of Racialicious was one of our very first Shaping Youth advisory board members (she’s recently stepped away from Racialicious to pursue new paths) I’m shifting the stereotypes and media ethics questions today over to Dr. Michael Rich, aka The Mediatrician whose words of wisdom will soon be “living” on our sidebar with the expansion and overhaul of our Shaping Youth site, forthcoming by year’s end. (about time, eh?)

Long respected by yours truly for his science-based, positive AND negative analysis of media at Center on Media and Child Health, (at Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard School of Public Health) Dr. Michael Rich has an approachable, hands-on style that’s perfect for engaging in centrist, pro-con critical thinking, with comments that make you ‘consider’ larger societal and cross-cultural reverb.

Whether you follow the CMCH active Facebook forum (highly recommend you “like” it to yakbak on a multitude of subjects, including this one) or you follow CMCH on Twitter, the balanced, easygoing style bridges the gap of authority between medical science and research jargon and media-driven vested interest pundits to give a more well-rounded dose of data leaving the ‘prescription’ to the readers themselves. I like that in a blog, and I love that in mainstream media en masse, seeing tough questions raised to be batted around for consideration, as you can see by his commentary in the NYTimes piece yesterday, “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction.”

CMCH’s style tends to be level-headed and respectful to numerous points of view sans  medical righteousness, soap-boxing, guilt-tripping, or holier than thou ‘not in my house’ emphatic extremes…

…In short, it’s a good fit for Shaping Youth. So in Amazon/Netflix media messaging, “if you like Shaping Youth, you might try the Mediatrician…”

Oh, and one more as long as I’m giving thanks for pragmatic parenting souls…check out Don’t Get Gobbled Up By Stress Over the Thanksgiving Holidays a fun little ditty written in acrostic style using the word GRATEFUL, laced with wise words from entrepreneur Lori Lite of  Stress Free Kids…(no, not makin’ that name up)

Without further ado, the doctor is in…Ask away on their site, and enjoy the roundup of related resources from Shaping Youth for the holidays. Thankful for your readership!

Should I correct Thanksgiving stereotypes my kids see on TV?

by Dr. Michael Rich (Ask The Mediatrician)

Q: I know I’m probably making a big deal out of this, but it really bugs me when my school-age kids watch shows and movies in class or on TV that show inaccurate stereotypes of the first Thanksgiving—grateful Pilgrims and wild “Indians” and lots of peace and harmony.

I don’t want to ostracize my kids for what they think is true, but isn’t it my place to correct them? -Stereotype Stickler in Scottsdale, AZ

A: Dear Stickler,

As a parent, it’s your job to raise your children to think and behave in ways that will make them successful throughout their lives, in various realms. That means impressing upon them not only cultural and perhaps religious values but also those gained through history.

If what your kids are learning isn’t in line with your understanding of the actual story of Thanksgiving, start a discussion about what they’ve heard, and consider guiding them through concepts that add nuance and accuracy to their understanding:

  • Immigrant experiences. Those aboard the Mayflower were escaping religious persecution. What does it mean to your children that these early Anglo-Americans were as much immigrants as are today’s newcomers to this country? What does the U.S. offer that makes so many people uproot their lives to move here?
  • Conflict of world views. The Pilgrims’ friendship with members of the Wampanoag tribe was centered around learning how to survive in their new environment: Problems erupted when they imposed European cultural values, like property ownership, on people who believed that land could not belong to anyone. Discuss the fact that different cultures have different ways of seeing the world. How can we find ways of acknowledging and living with our differences in a way that benefits everyone?
  • How stories change over time. Explain to your kids that many of the tales that endure are often the ones that a select few people—usually those in power—have worked hard to publicize. And sometimes, those are the stories we wish had happened but that don’t really line up with the truth. It’s up to us—kids, included—to learn about and from our actual experiences.
  • History has lots to teach us. Discuss how when we’re conscious of and diligent about how we treat one another and honor our past, we can prevent history from repeating in the ways we don’t want and make important changes to our world in the way that we do.

Sure, these concepts are much heavier than the ones in Turkey-Day cartoons, but kids may benefit from them for seasons to come.

Here are some more great resources on this topic:

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®

Dr. Michael Rich is an MD, MPH, a father of four and the director of CMCH, Boston. Full bio here. Shaping Youth is honored to publish and promote his science-based work as a guest editorial periodically, with permissions. Here’s more about his approach to long and short term questions revolving around media’s impact on kids. As with any of our nonprofit’s guest features, views are his own, and the questions raised are as important as the answers gleaned…Enjoy! –Amy Jussel

Cartoon Credit: artist Jeff Parker c 2006

Related Posts By Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth

Prelude to Parade Day: SY’s Tween Reporter Behind the Scenes

Ethics, Priorities & Media Moments: Fun Tips for Thanksgiving

CNN Heroes, Thanksgiving Must See Media (Betty Makoni ’09)

Nicole Kidman Honors CNN Top 10 Hero Betty Makoni (’09)

Table Topics and Dinner Dialog Builds Intimacy w/Kids

Handful Of Thanksgiving Resources

Don’t Get Gobbled Up By Stress (Stress Free Kids)

20 Teen & Tween Conversation Starters (Vanessa VanPetten)

Education World Article: Teaching About Thanksgiving

How to Explain Thanksgiving to Your Kids (fun/silly one)

Gobble Gobble Give Back (instilling philanthropy) YDT)

Vegan Holiday: Thanksgiving Recipes

Adopt A Turkey Project: Farm Sanctuary

Pilgrim Fare: Bean Soup vs. Turkey/Mythology of History (USA Today)

Thanksgiving’s Carbon Footprint/Factoids & Coloring Pages (TimTim)

CCFC Guide to Commercial Free Holidays

Kids Travel Tips Road Survival Guide (via Babble)

Macy’s Official Parade Site (How to get in the parade/audition apps, fun-n-games etc.)

Balloon Facts & Science (An academic roundup of visual whys, hows, & major moments)

TimeOut New York’s Visitor Guide (Balloon inflation the night prior, etc.) (Full list of balloon intros by year, history, MCs, injuries/incidents, etc.)

The NYC Insider: Best spots for viewing the parade

The NYC Insider: ‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving


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