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How to Manage Your Child’s Media Consumption

Three key factors shape the lives of all children. They are the media they consume, the friends they hang out with, and the parental example lived before them. By understanding how these influencers work and harnessing their power for good, we can raise storm-proof kids who are able to weather a life of complex choices and actively engage in shaping society.

Without question, today’s entertainment industry has taken center stage in the lives of many families. Yet, some parents forget that input equals output when it comes to media consumption. The images and words that enter your children’s eyes and ears tend to come out in their behavior, character, and attitudes. Proverbs says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Likewise, your eyes and ears are the doors to your heart. So, movies, TV shows, video games, Internet sites, songs, magazines, and books affect kids in either a positive or negative way. There is no neutral.

When I was a kid growing up, the TV set was often called the “idiot box” because, as the story goes, when a person watched too much TV, they supposedly turned into an idiot. Today, it’s estimated that children watch an average of twenty-eight to thirty-two hours of television a week.1 Add in surfing the Internet and playing video games, and the hours children spend engages in electronic media climbs to nearly fifty-five hours a week.2 This adds up to more time than they spend in school, in extracurricular activities, in church, and in some cases, even more hours than they sleep in a week! Media can be the biggest influence on your children, simply because it gets the most attention.

Consequently, what values are your children learning through the media? By showcasing beautiful people in beautiful surroundings living exciting lives, the media can create a sense of discontentment with our looks, clothes, car, house, and even our spouse. Children learn from the media that if you want to be happy and important, you must be good-looking, rich, and popular. If you want to know why your kids want new toys, new clothes, and new hairstyles, or why they think that they are too fat or too skinny, or not good-looking enough, then take a look at what they are watching and listening.

When I talk with concerned parents whose children are exhibiting poor behavior, I’m often able to trace back the child’s inappropriate actions to the antics of a character on a TV show or video game they were playing. Even many of the characters on so-called “family friendly” programs leave a lot to be desired. In most sitcoms, the father is portrayed as a moron and the mom is in charge of everything. The scripts are written in such a way that the children seem to know it all, have little respect for their parents, and the plot often revolves around the children deceiving their parents to stay out of trouble. We can’t expect our kids to act appropriately and respectfully if they are watching the “cool” kids act inappropriately and disrespectfully. Like a mirror, they will reflect the images they see before them.

Even worse is the content of television commercials. I have been astonished to see racy lingerie commercials aired during shows that are geared toward families. Also, R-rated movies and lewd TV shows are promoted during primetime hours when children are most likely to be watching. In our home, we initially trained our kids to turn their heads or cover their faces when something inappropriate came on. We even taught them to start singing loudly with their hands over their ears until we could change the channel. Eventually, we’ve come to the point where we chose to entirely stop watching channels whose shows and commercials got out of line.

As the standards of decency have worsened in the media, we’ve made a personal decision to stop watching TV and buy or rent our own DVDs. By creating a library of wholesome entertainment, we’re able to eliminate the crazy influence and take control of what our kids are watching. We don’t recommend this step for all families, but it can be beneficial when other choices aren’t helpful.

The most important thing parents can do is to control the quality and quantity of media for their kids. You are the policeman, so you are the one with the authority over what comes into your house. You are responsible for what your children watch, read, and hear.

Try the following exercise to help gauge the media’s influence over your kids.

a) Put these media menu items in order of importance for each of your children. Knowing what is most important to them will help you know what requires the greatest monitoring and what to take away when their behavior needs to improve:

• Movies Music Magazines Books Video Games

b) Calculate about how many hours a day/week do your children spend doing the following:

MEDIA TYPE CHILD 1: CHILD 2: CHILD 3:
Watching TV (Movies, Cable, etc.) 
Listening to Music (MP3, IPOD, Radio, etc.) 
Playing Video Games 
Reading (Novels, Graphic Novels, etc.) 

 

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, then venture into their world and find out! Don’t let them watch television or movies unless you are watching with them to monitor the content. Listen to their music with them, and preview their video games. Read their books before they do. If the images they are seeing and the words they are hearing or reading are not the kind that you want to see reproduced in their lives, then change the input. Cut out the negative, and replace it with positive alternatives.

For a great list of healthy media suggestions, check out my free resource called:

Healthy Media Menu Options

Information Sources:

(1) http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/media_entertainment/tv-viewing-among-kids-at-an-eight-year-high/, retrieved 11/13/10

(2) http://thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/kids-television-47102701, retrieved 11-13-10

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