Ed Bowers

Ed Bowers

Dr. Edmond P. Bowers, assistant professor of youth development leadership at Clemson University, recently served on a conference panel that unveiled a new rating tool designed to help parents select media for children. The panel discussion, “Can Media Teach Character Strengths and Life Skills?,” took place at the SXSWedu® Conference on March 9 in Austin, Texas.

Common Sense Media developed the tool, which focuses on core character strengths and provides a database of suitable media for children that helps reinforce character development. According to Bowers, this reframing of how society views media as an influence on children is not only beneficial but essential.

“The prevailing view of media has been as a negative influence,” Bowers said. “Media is now a ubiquitous context for child and adolescent development, so it’s more important now than ever to focus on innovative measures that allow media to provide positive and prosocial benefits.”

Bowers served as advisor on the project and was joined on the panel by Darla Anderson, senior producer at Pixar Animation Studios; Jeff Kleeman, president of A Very Good Production; and Yalda T. Uhls, director of Creative Community Partnerships for Common Sense Media and leader of the tool’s research team. The panel answered questions from the audience after revealing how the new tool would work.

Common Sense Media finalized its list of character strengths after reviewing 133 articles and 15 expert interviews in addition to input it received from an advisory council of academics, educators and Hollywood executives. These strengths are integrity, compassion, gratitude, self-control, empathy, humility, teamwork, courage, curiosity, communication and perseverance.

Over 600 movies and television shows were rated at commonsense.org, where parents can also find conversation guides to help them talk to their kids about the pro-social messages in each program. This will allow parents to use media as a tool instead of fighting a losing battle to censor it, according to Bowers.

“It’s important to provide a way to help parents actively engage in media with their children in a positive way,” Bowers said. “This tool helps parents identify media that reinforces parents’ values and promotes reflection in their children.”

Bowers said the tool provides teachers and other youth-serving professionals a way to begin to identify media that could be integrated into classrooms and programs as they work to build character strengths and skills in young people.

Bowers works to identify strengths in young people and the resources in their family, schools and communities that will help those young people achieve their full potential. He is currently working with Tufts University and WGBH on the Arthur Interactive Media Study to test whether a curriculum built around digital media starring characters from the Arthur carton series will promote character in children. He was awarded a grant last year by The Boys and Girls Clubs of America to test how digital resources, such as a new video game, can support resilience and reintegration among military-connected youth.

Common Sense is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families and educators thrive in a world of media and technology. They rate, educate, and advocate on behalf of kids, families, and schools. Common Sense Media, which facilitates the consumer website, offers the world’s largest and most trusted library of age-based ratings and reviews of all types of content targeted at kids, and their research-based curriculum and tools are used in over 100,000 U.S. schools. For more information, go to www.commonsense.org.

The SXSWedu Conference & Festival fosters innovation in learning by hosting a diverse and energetic community of stakeholders across a variety of backgrounds in education. The four-day event affords registrants open access to engaging sessions, interactive workshops, hands-on learning experiences, film screenings, early-stage startups and a host of networking opportunities. By providing a platform for collaboration, SXSWedu works to promote creativity and social change.