That was the message Friday, Nov. 9, of psychologist Robert Russell, who spoke in the fourth "Town & Gown" presentation by Palo Alto University.
Russell, who directs clinical training for the university that offers degrees in counseling and psychology, spoke at the Stanford Faculty Club to about 75 students and counselors, with strong representation from the Palo Alto Unified School District.
Today's children average nine hours a day of engagement with media, Russell said.
"Given that media exposure, you have to wonder about who is out to control the development of your child's consciousness. Consumerism and media have led some to conclude that corporations are really now constructing the view that we, and children themselves, adopt," he said.
"This raises the specter of the vulnerability of childhood itself."
Society's perception of children has changed radically since 1900, when they were viewed as "hardy, courageous, sturdy, wholesome, self-sufficient and capable," Russell said.
Today, he said, kids are seen as fragile, precious, vulnerable, sickly, dependent and incapable, with more than 20 percent living in poverty and high levels of obesity and diabetes.
Kids are firmly entrenched in a "consumer culture where we're bombarded by messages to 'buy, buy, buy,'" Russell said.
"You have an uphill battle as adults to engage children in a developmental stage" free from the escalating electronic competition.
Russell said parents should "get your children off the couch and back into nature. Engage them in rational conversation.
"Create challenges from them that are difficult but solvable. Don't level adversity; encourage adventure," he said.
So-called "helicopter parents" — those who hover around the children — make the mistake of trying to micro-manage their kids and shield them from failure, stunting autonomy and independence.
"Take some control," he said. "I talk to parents who ask me questions such as, 'Is it a bad thing for my 7-year-old to sleep with their cell phone?'
"Yes, it is, actually," he said.
"Unplug your kids and control it."
Palo Alto University, founded in 1975 and known until 2009 as the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, has a campus on Arastradero Road and cooperative arrangements with the Foothill-De Anza Community College District and Stanford University.
This past June it awarded 39 doctorates, 29 doctorates in psychology, five masters degrees, 31 undergraduate degrees in business psychology and 32 undergraduate degrees in psychology and social action.
The university offers low-cost mental health services to the community through sliding-scale fees at the Gronowski Center, a clinic in Los Altos.