Although you cannot shelter them from all this exposure and information, you can:
- teach them how to deal with the electronic revolution that is a part of their lives.
- help them analyze and evaluate the messages they receive
- show them how to utilize mass media and the new technologies in positive ways.
The Challenge and the Need
What makes this so difficult for parents is how quickly new technology develops. It seems that every day a new means of communicating or accessing the internet become available. It can feel daunting to even try to keep up.
And controlling your child’s media intake is often a thankless job. You are met with resistance at every turn, especially from your teen. Why even try? Because you will not be able to guide your child unless you expose yourself to the new technology, if not before them, then alongside them.
We must tune in to their culture and to do so, we need to take time, gather information, and maintain strong resolve and determination. It is often not easy. Parental involvement is a key to safe and balanced use.
Children whose parents are supportive, caring, involved, and set limits in a nurturing way are better able to handle the media. When young, children prefer to spend more time with parents who are willing to explore these technologies in a non-hurried and accepting way. When older, these teens will be more likely to listen to parents’ limits, concerns and opinions, and take those into account as they make decisions.
Making Decisions about the Media and Your Teen
- Postpone – the longer you can hold off exposing your child/teen to violent and sexually suggestive material, the better off he will be.
- Pick and Choose – evaluate each situation individually, for example each movie – some R-rated movies or video games are less offensive than others. Remember that teens are working on being independent, so give them freedom of choice whenever possible.
- Set limits – introduce a little structure with regard to media. Moderation is a good policy. Tell your teen that people should not live by TV/media alone – they also have homework, hobbies, sports, friends, family. Call for a quiet hour in the house with no electronic media.
An effective strategy to avoid conflict with your teen is to work with him to decide what are appropriate choices. Together you can set some guidelines: when, how much, which shows, movies, CD’s, videos, computer games, and which sites and how much access to the internet.
- When possible, participate with your child – watch TV with her and listen to her music (especially if you think it may have some objectionable content), have him guide you through use of the internet, what sites he is visiting, and get to know who she is meeting online and visit with her.
- Discuss what you are both experiencing in relation to the program content of the media. Seize every opportunity to discuss what you see and hear with your child.
Talk about violence, the bad language, the images you find offensive.
Without being dogmatic or heavy-handed, voice your opinion so that your values are clear. Ask her what she thinks and provide her with time to respond; listen non-judgmentally to her thoughts and perspectives.
- Rent video games and sit with him while he plays. Check out magazines that review games and look at ratings on the package. Negotiate with your teen about which ones he can have.
- Check movie reviews and ratings.
- Give your teen some privacy and tell her you trust her to abide by the rules you have developed.
There are many benefits to television in your children’s lives:
- It can be a learning tool
- It can help teens gain an appreciation of the world and people
- It enables teens to relate to their peers about popular programs, which addresses your teen’s need to feel a sense of identity and membership within the contemporary popular culture.
On the flip side, there are many negatives to television:
- They may watch too much TV
- Most programs depict life and people unrealistically
- Women are exploited or shown with no depth or abilities
- Sex is ubiquitous and there are no consequences for it
- Smoking and drinking are portrayed as cool
- Often times there are quick and superficial fixes to life’s problems.
Maximizing the good and minimizing the harmful effects of television
- Help him plan which shows he will watch – this can reinforce the idea that TV, like other activities, should have a purpose.
- When possible, watch with your teen – it can be an opportunity to discuss difficult topics. Give your opinion and allow her to have her say.
- Consider restricting TV to weekends – it is a way to teach that it is possible to relax and have fun without TV.
- Watch advertisements with your teen – help him learn how to judge the ads, hone media literacy skills and become a critical consumer.
As opposed to the 60’s and 70’s music message which was rebellion but with peace, equality, and ethnic equity, some of today’s messages seem to be rebellion with anger: the use of words whose purpose seems to be to shock or even horrify, advocacy of violence; racist themes, and being demeaning of women. The artists/rock stars are frequently negative role models.
Even with this reality, there are some benefits to the music of today’s teens: they may decide they want a career in music or they may develop a lifelong love and interest in music.
Helping teens analyze the negative messages in the music they listen to
- Listen to the music your teens listen to, watch music videos, comment about your reactions or concerns without being judgmental if he likes the music. Talk about any bad language and images you find offensive
- Set some rules about purchasing recordings or downloading music.
- Make a distinction with your teen between an entertainer’s music/art and his personal life. Help your teen to understand that he can appreciate the artist’s talent without idealizing or even endorsing all aspects of the person’s life, behavior, choices and apparent values. Use the opportunity to discuss your stand on alcohol, drugs, sex, violence, whatever comes up with an entertainer’s lifestyle.
Music videos on their own do not lead to risky behavior. The variable for a healthy lifestyle for our teens seems to be how close the teens are to their families, not solely what they watch.
As with all the new media, there are many plusses:
- computers have changed the way children and teens learn and has given them access to all the world’s information.
- Research has become more fun and exciting,
- They can share ideas and find people with common interests.
Kids can connect with peers across the glob,
But of course there are also the negatives:
- the biggest ones being the worry about who our teens are meeting in cyberspace and about what sites they are visiting.
- There is also the concern about how much time our teens are spending online, to the detriment of other aspects of their lives.
- There are concerns about social networking – it can consume our teens’ lives and be their primary way of connecting with other people rather than face-to-face interactions.
Keeping your teens safe and helping them balance computer use and other activities
- Teens still need your guidance as they enter cyberspace, so you need to educate yourself and stay involved with them.
- Enlist your teen as a tour guide as you surf the net with him – ask him to take you to the sites he visits.
- Set some ground rules for being online: which sites, for how long, when.
- Keep computers out of your children’s bedrooms. It is better to have them be in public spaces in your home.
- You need to establish rules for hand-held internet devices and cell phones. For example, they must be turned in to the parent at night or put on the charger in the kitchen.
- Suggest some sites he may want to visit.
- Get to know who he is meeting on-line. Visit with him. Make sure he knows not to give out personal information (name, address, phone)
- Give him some privacy and tell him you trust him to abide by your rules, then leave him alone. If you find he is not ready for such freedom, set stricter rules and keep a tighter rein until you feel he can manage the responsibility and can be trusted.
- Know how to use the parental control devices that come with on-line services.
- Prepare your child to deal with anyone online who makes her uncomfortable – “What you are telling me is against AOL’s rules and I am going to report you.” Let her know she should let you know if something frightening happens online.
Much of the material in this article is summarized from The Rollercoaster Years by Charlene Giannetti and Margaret Sagarese
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