The other night I was watching Dr. Who on TV with a friend who is a Dr. Who enthusiast. However, it was not the program that captured my attention, but the commercials. The first commercial showed a man who was jealous of a colleague’s new computer that the company gave the colleague after accidentally spilling coffee on his old computer. So this man spilled coffee on his computer on purpose so he could get a new computer too. The next commercial showed a woman who was so happy to be purchasing a third backpack for her son who just told her he lost his backpack again. There was no parental discussion about responsibility. She just went online with a smile and laughed. In the last commercial a small child, about ten-years-old, was in the back of a small car with two adults who were getting undressed and dressed into new clothes. The end scene shows the child covered in adult under-clothing and smiling.
Think about all these for a moment. What messages are these commercial sending?
What stuck me first was how these three commercials are teaching people in a subtle way that child endangerment, lying, irresponsibility, and stealing from your company are all good or at least not worth mention. Subconsciously it is hard for the viewer not to think it is OK. After all, someone who was a college graduate and holds a good job probably thought up the ideas for these ads. Then they had to pass these ideas by their team, then a board of directors, then the company selling the item then the networks who would run the commercials. In a subtle way the watcher knows that multiple respected people with good jobs “approved” this ad. It makes it feel OK.
However, what struck me even more deeply was how these three commercials could manipulate a sense of morality in less than 120 seconds.
This is the power of a story. And this is why being a good storyteller is so important in the lives of your children and students. You can tell a powerful story, too. And your stories can act as an antidote to the stories they see that you can’t control. The more stories with positive and healthy messages you tell, the less the ones with negative messages will have an impact. In addition, the more aware the teacher, parent and child become of the storytelling process the more aware they become of how the process can sometimes be used to manipulate them in negative ways. This awareness is very healthy in this modern age of “over-information”.
Look for the following qualities when telling a story:
- Remember the power of the commercials. Telling a story does not have to be long. It is the visual and audial power you create with your storytelling that will affect your listener.
- Choose stories that reflect what you want to teach your child/student. We don’t all have the same values and that is OK. For this reason we include a lot of extra stories in the Earthschooling Curriculum – we know that not all of them will appeal to everyone.
- Tell stories again and again. Once again you can learn from commercials. They don’t show it once. They show their story over and over.
- Learn some storytelling techniques. We are not all born storytellers but we can be taught. I taught a storytelling class to a group a few years ago that is available on video HERE.
- Use stories instead of direct instruction. Studies and experience have shown that children will always listen to a story but will rarely listen to a person reprimand them or give them advice. You can send the same message with a story.
- Teach children to tell stories. I used to teach a class (you can see it here in Storytelling and Theater for Kids) that took children through the steps of telling great stories. It was amazing how much I learned about them from the stories they told. Stories are not only a great way to communicate but a great way to find out “where someone is at” and what they are thinking. Knowing where your child/student is at can help you choose more appropriate stories for them in the future.