How can I help my child navigate the media world?

Have you ever thought about how much time your child spends with the media (in front of a TV, computer, smart phone, or video game screen)?

Fact: The average 8-year-old child spends 7 hours a day with some form of digital entertainment. That’s 49 hours a week….a full time job!

They get home from school and watch their favorite TV shows, play videogames for a few hours, watch YouTube videos, look up the Facebook status of their friends, send a few text messages, and fall asleep at 11 pm with the TV still on. It’s too much. Their lives are bombarded by media exposure.

The typical child spends more time in front of a screen than they do with their parents or with their school teachers. As a result, the media has remarkable influence on children and teens. How can a parent compete with 49 hours a week of highly engaging entertainment? It’s almost impossible.

So what’s the big deal? Every hour of time spent in front of an electronic device is a wasted opportunity.  This time could have been better spent exercising, socializing with friends, reading, getting ahead on school work, or spending time with parents or siblings. Even worse, these TV shows, movies and video games may glorify sex, drug use, violence and unhealthy food choices. In fact, children who watch TV excessively are more likely to have problems with obesity, drug use, unsafe sex, aggressive behavior, school problems, and attention deficit disorder. I wish that I was exaggerating, but these facts are well-supported by the research.

Parents may try their best to have important conversations with children about important life issues, but unless the media reinforces your opinions, these lessons will be quickly forgotten.

So what can parents do? My first recommendation is to reduce the amount of media that you allow your children to view (less than 2 hours a day). However, I recognize that many parents are not willing or it can be difficult to cut down. Since media is part of our daily lives, here are some great websites and apps that will help you to protect your children from the harmful effects of the media.

1) www.commonsensemedia.org: This website, and it’s associated app (“kidsmedia”) will provide you with a detailed preview of the sex, drugs, violence, and educational value of almost every TV show, videogame, movie, and app that currently exists. It is much more reliable than the currently existing rating systems. It will give you a recommended viewing age and offer ideas on how to talk with your children about any disturbing content. For example, in a recent review of the movie “neighbors”, it suggests that parents ask their kids about the real life consequences of drinking and drug use.

2) PBS.org: This is a wonderful site that provides age-based advice on how to use the media in a positive way.

3) www.Ikeepsafe.org (and the associated app: “be a pro parent” ): This website will quiz you on your media savviness. It uses your incorrect answers to help you to create a better balance in how you allow your children to use the media.

What is YOUR best advice for other parents when it comes to the media? Can you suggest any helpful websites or books?


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