Should parents change their tune on children and media literacy in the digital age?

Smartphones, tablets, computers at home, computers at school, computers at the library, augmented reality, video games…the list of new platforms that children have available to engage with goes on for miles. Although the platforms for media consumption may be shiny and new, that doesn’t exactly change the way parents should approach media exposure for their children.

“The most important way children learn language, how to socialize, is by their interaction one-on-one with their parents,” said “St. Louis on the Air” panelist Dr. Ken Haller. “Media can supplement that but it can’t substitute it. One of the things we’re learning through research around media and children is that media itself is not so much the problem as it is the fact that we tend to substitute media, electronic media, for one-on-one human interaction.”

“St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh moderates a live panel on children and the media for Media Literacy Week.


Haller was one of four panelists that joined “St. Louis on the Air” on Monday for a broadcast in front of a live audience on children and the media as part of Gateway Media Literacy Partners’ 10th annual Media Literacy Week. This year, the week coincides with a national media literacy week as well and people are joining in the conversation on Twitter with the #MediaLitWk hashtag. Panelists included:

  • Art Silverblatt, media literacy scholar and professor emeritus, Webster University
  • Brenda Fyfe, Professor and Dean, Webster University’s School of Education
  • Dafna Lemish, Professor and Dean, College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, author of Children and Media: A Global Perspective
  • Kenneth Haller, Jr., M.D., SLUCare Pediatrician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center; Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Saint Louis University

“This is a world where we have electronic media, they’re not going away,” Lemish said. “What we do need to do is find a balance between different forms of activities that we do with young children.”

This is a world where we have electronic media, they’re not going away. What we do need to do is find a balance between different forms of activities that we do with young children.

For example, she said that using an e-book instead of a printed paperback to engage with children is just fine—so long as the parents is helping the child interpret the book, ask questions about it, pointing out particulars as they would with a normal book.

“The most important thing is the interaction,” Lemish continued. “Using electronic media passively, putting the baby in front of the screen and going to do the laundry is not such a good strategy. If you are using it to interact with the baby, whether it is going to the museum to look at the pictures or looking at animals in the street, it is another resource in the environment…one other resource in their holistic environment.”

In the end, media literacy comes down to establishing critical thinking in children and adults. Silverblatt recommended a “production approach” to start conversations: encouraging children to think about media with style questions about production such as “What music is used?” “What colors are being used?” “What point-of-view is the camera capturing?”

“Media literacy focuses on a process not a product; we’re telling people how to think, not what to think,” Silverblatt said.

Haller recommended that parents looking for advice on digital media consumption for their youngsters should look to the sites and “Media literacy, when it comes right down to it has a lot to do with common-sense parenting,” Haller said. “While a lot of media are new, it comes down to engaging with your kids about these things.”


At the crux of it, is time. Many people emailed and tweeted during the conversation to lament a lack of time and money to spend with their kids. Unfortunately, time could very well be the most important part of instilling media literacy in kids.

“Listening is so important, listening to what they’re taking in from the media,” Fyfe said. “Sometimes we just run right over children and guide them and direct them and put them through experiences and never take the time to hear what’s going on in their minds.”

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.

SLU Care Doctor Worried About Children’s Health Around Landfill

SLU Care Doctor Worried About Children’s Health Around Landfill


BRIDGETON, Mo (KMOX) – Parents living in the West Lake Landfill area are worried what might happen to their kids if an underground fire eventually makes contact with nuclear waste next door.

SLU Care pediatrician Dr. Ken Haller at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center says an adult getting exposed to radiation might not be a big deal. But the younger you are, the worse it could be due to the rapid production of new tissues found in younger human beings.

“Radiation tends to attack the parts of our body that are replicating and creating new tissues. That’s what kids are, that’s what babies are,” Haller says. “In fact one of the most vulnerable populations is pregnant women because the fetus can be damaged by radiation.”

Haller says the biggest frustration for everyone is no one knows how the situation is going to play out.

“Right now there are more questions than answers,” Haller says.

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Local Pediatricians Disagree with Trump on Vaccine-Autism

by Fred Bodimer

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Local pediatricians try to put out the vaccine-autism fire that was recently re-lit by Donald Trump.

During Wednesday night’s GOP debate, Trump renewed his claim that vaccines sometimes can lead to autism.

“Just the other day…two years old, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine…a week later got a tremendous fever, got very very sick, now is autistic,” says Trump.

SLU Care pediatrician Dr. Ken Haller at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center calls those comments wrong and unfortunate.

“The science is extremely clear that vaccines are safe, they’re effective and they have absolutely no connection to autism,” says Haller.

Haller says that giving smaller doses over longer periods of time does not work because the children need the vaccines as soon as possible.

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Best St. Louis cabaret performer

Ken Haller

Ken Haller (left), a cabaret-singing pediatrician, rehearses for an upcoming performance with musical director Al Fischer at his Shaw neighborhood home in St. Louis on May 22, 2012. Photo by Sid Hastings

Ken Haller

Cabaret performers come and go, but Ken Haller (a pediatrician by day) is a St. Louis legend. If you’re interested in what makes the Great American Songbook great, you owe it to yourself to give this man a listen. ~ CW

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Fourth annual Briefs Festival showcases eight playwrights


Dr. Ken Haller, far left, Joan Lipkin and John Schmidt are participating in next week’s Briefs Festival. The trio talked to ‘Cityscape’ host Steve Potter, far right, about the event on Friday at St. Louis Public Radio in St. Louis.

What do a gay mermaid looking for love, a Jewish mother who competitively wants her single son to have the biggest wedding, and a lesbian version of Dr. Seuss have in common?

They are all themes in this year’s Briefs Festival of Short LGBT Plays, a festival that brings together numerous directors and actors to showcase the work of eight different playwrights under one roof.

The eight plays being performed at the festival on March 27-29 at the Centene Center for the Arts have been selected out of more than 170 submissions from across the country.

On Friday, “Cityscape” host Steve Potter talked about the festival with Joan Lipkin, the festival’s co-producer and artistic director of That Uppity Theatre Company; Dr. Ken Haller, a pediatrician and actor; and John Schmidt, a playwright and the winner of the Ken Haller Playwriting Competition for LGBTQ and Allied Youth.

Briefs: A Festival of Short LGBT Plays

  • When: 8 p.m. March 27, 2015; 4 and 8 p.m. March 28, 2015; 2 p.m. March 29, 2015; the Ken Haller Award Reception is 6:30 p.m. March 27, 2015.
  • Where: The Rialto Ballroom at Grand Center, 3547 Olive St., St. Louis
  • More information

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.

Vaccines, Outbreaks, and Personal Choice: Measles by the Numbers


Measles has not reached the St. Louis area this year, but that hasn’t kept it from stoking fears.

Local public health officials are encouraging parents to make sure their children’s vaccinations are up-to-date by checking with their individual health providers. With worries that last month’s outbreak in Disneyland could continue to spread, officials in Illinois are investigating the source of five infants diagnosed with measles at a day care center outside Chicago.

Though Illinois Senator Dick Durbin told a Chicago TV station that another suspected measles case had been identified in Madison County on Friday, the Illinois Public Health Department said they no longer consider it a potential case.

We decided to take a look at the numbers. In fact, vaccination rates are quite high for schoolchildren in both Missouri and Illinois—nearly every county in both states reported vaccination rates above 90 percent for most of the shots required by law.

Common reasons for non-vaccination include allergies, medical concerns, and religious objections. Children under the age of 1 are too young for the vaccine, and can be at risk during an outbreak. The map above includes children who have begun vaccinations, but are on a delayed immunization schedule.

How common are the measles?

Not very, but outbreaks have become more frequent.

644 cases of measles were reported in 2014, the most since the disease was declared eliminated from the US in 2000. More than a hundred cases were reported in January of 2015, most of them linked to an outbreak at Disneyland.

The abdomen of a patient with a measles rash.
Prior to widespread immunization, measles was common in childhood, with more than 90% of infants and children infected by age 12. Recently, fewer than 1,000 measles cases have been reported annually since 1993.

Over the past decade, outbreaks tend to be related to unvaccinated people contracting measles abroad, and spreading among communities of people who are not immunized.

95 percent of school children in the city of St. Louis are up-to-date with their immunizations, according to data obtained from the state of Missouri.

“It’s very disappointing that some parents choose not to vaccinate their children based on rumor and fear tactics, but it’s a very small percentage of people,” said St. Louis Health Department director Pam Walker.

Before vaccines were available, measles was quite common. The CDC estimates that between 3 and 4 million Americans contracted measles each year in the decade before the vaccine was developed, with up to 500 deaths a year.

By comparison, influenza killed 1,532 people in 2010, according to the CDC. (Pneumonia, which is often a complication of the flu, killed about 52,000).

What do measles feel like?

Dr. Ken Haller remembers getting the measles in 1962, at the age of 7.

“I remember being absolutely miserable for two weeks. My muscles were achey, I could barely swallow, the lights were too bright,” Haller said. “It’s just a really horrible disease.”

Today, Haller is a pediatrician at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. He says he often talks to parents to allay their concerns about the safety of vaccines, which often stem from a 1998 study linking the measles vaccine to autism, which was later debunked. He published a review of available research in 2012, which can be found here.



“We really want people go get vaccinated, and get kids vaccinated, because you’re not just protecting yourself, you’re protecting other vulnerable people,” Haller said.

Symptoms of measles include a high fever, cough, a runny nose and watery eyes. After a few days, patients may develop a rash of flat red spots and small raised bumps. About one in 1,000 patients will develop inflammation of the brain, which can lead to a loss of hearing or permanent brain damage. The disease is fatal in about 1 in 1000 cases.

Mild reactions to the vaccine, such as a fever or rash, are relatively common. In extremely rare cases, children may develop a severe allergic reaction or other complications. Further information can be found on the CDC’s website.

Who isn’t vaccinated?

Missouri and Illinois allow two exemptions for non-vaccination when children attend school: medical and religious.

Children with immune diseases, blood disorders, or cancer are often unable to get the vaccine for medical reasons. Members of some religious sects, such as the Amish or Christian Scientists, sometimes oppose vaccination. (An outbreak among Christian Science students at Principia College in 1985 led to three deaths and a quarantine).

St. Charles-based chiropractor, Mackenzie Mcnamara, says her patients represent a range of opinions over the issue. Some choose to vaccinate, some choose not to, and others decide to vaccinate on a delayed schedule. Mcnamara separates herself from the ‘anti-vaccine movement,’ but says parents should be able to choose whether or not they vaccinate their child.

Measles are highly contagious, and the death rate if a person contracts the disease is 1 in 1000. But due to the abundant use of vaccines, deaths due to measles have been virtually eliminated in the U.S. Mcnamara says some parents worry about the possibility of side effects from the vaccine.

“Clearly there is a risk, and [parents] should be able to choose if they assume that risk with their child,” Mcnamara said. She adds that friends and clients have felt a sense of backlash against their opposition to vaccines since the outbreak in California.

“I think there’s a definite middle ground, I wish people would see that too,” Mcnamara said.

Follow St. Louis Public Radio’s Durrie Bouscaren on Twitter, @durrieB. 

‘We Need People Working Together’: Discussing Protests, Evidence And How To Talk To Children


Ferguson and St. Louis residents are trying to cope with and understand a grand jury’s decision not to indict police Officer Darren Wilson in the August death of Michael Brown, and the response, sometimes violent, to that decision.

Wednesday on “St. Louis on the Air,” we discussed an upcoming march organized by the NAACP; protests in St. Louis; the response in Washington, D.C.; the grand jury evidence and how to talk about Ferguson and protests with children.


  • Cornell William Brooks (@CornellWBrooks), NAACP president and CEO, will talk about the Journey for Justice march that starts Saturday.
  • Dr. Ken Haller Jr. (@KenHallerMD), a pediatrician and associate professor at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, will discuss how to talk to children about events related to Ferguson.
  • St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay (@MayorSlay) will discuss the city’s response and plans.
  • Jim Howard (@jimhoward529), St. Louis Public Radio’s Washington correspondent, will update us on the Department of Justice investigation.
  • St. Louis Public Radio reporters Camille Phillips (@cmpcamille) from protests in downtown St. Louis, and Chris McDaniel (@csmcdaniel) and Rachel Lippman (@rlippmann) who have been combing through grand jury evidence.

Ken Haller Celebrates his 60th Birthday with ‘Mama’s Boy’

By MARY EDWARDS • OCT 24, 2014

Ken Haller is a pediatrician in his day job.  But in his spare time, he is a cabaret singer.  Following the success of his previous shows “Side by Side by Sondheim” and “The TV Show,” Haller will celebrate his 60th birthday with “Mama’s Boy,” part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival series.

“Cityscape” host Steve Potter began his conversation with Haller by asking him if he really was a mama’s boy. He responded, “Yes, I’m a mama’s boy.  I’m an Irish-Catholic kid from Long Island, and one of five kids. So in the show this is sort of a tribute to her.  It starts out with songs that she used to sing around the house, songs that remind me of her, and that’s sort of a springboard for all the rest.”

Potter gently suggested that being labeled a “mama’s boy” is typically a bad thing. Haller explained that he didn’t see it that way. “I learned a lot of lessons about how to take care of other people …

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.