No parent wants to let the television raise their kids. What many parents forget to consider is that this philosophy is just as important with older kids and teens as it is with the toddlers and the littles. In fact, in many ways, it might even be more important when your kids are older.
When your children are toddlers, you have absolute control over what they might see on television. Parental controls, DVDs, whatever; you can make sure that their media experiences are limited to things that help them learn and that promote positive messages. As your kids get older, the images they see on television get “older” too and you might be surprised at just how early they can start seeing things on TV and in movies that you might find offensive or problematic.
As a kid and teen, most of the shows you watched separated out the issues of drinking, drugs, sex, peer pressure, bad behavior, etc in “very special” episodes or after school movies. Contemporary media, though, starts seeding these things into ordinarily innocuous programming in very subtle ways. A Dutch study described by the Futures Palm Beach treatment center found that on-screen alcohol advertising is often so subtle that most people do not even pick up on it.
Plenty of parents try to combat this media exposure by severely limiting their kids’ media consumption and by insisting on pre-screening shows and films to make sure that they do not contain anything the parent finds objectionable before allowing his or her child to watch it. It’s an understandable approach to take, especially since, says KidsHealth.org, kids who are regularly exposed to illicit behaviors via the media are more likely to engage in them at earlier ages than those whose exposure is limited.
The problem is that, unless you plan on keeping your children at home 24/7 and only allowing them to associate with members of your immediate family, you cannot totally control what they see. They will see shows and movies at friends’ houses and at school.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t know what your kids are watching and how they are finding out about these shows and films. You should! But talking to your kids about how those shows and films make them feel and finding out what they think about what they see on the screen is, arguably, a bigger priority.
So how do you do that? How do you talk to your kids about the negative (for lack of a better word) things that they see on the screen without making them feel like they are on the defensive? Like we’ve said before, the last thing you want is to make your child feel interrogated or as if they should hide their viewing habits/experiences/thoughts/feelings from you!
The Children’s Trust recommends starting these conversations as early as possible with your kids. Remember: kids are exposed to illicit behaviors at much earlier ages than you were. This feels troubling, but it provides you with a great opportunity to create a feeling of trust and openness with your kids. While your kids are still young, start asking them about what they see in school and the things they talk about with their friends. Ask their opinions about what they see on the shows you watch together or that they are shown by friends or in school.
It is also incredibly important to answer your kids’ questions honestly. Society still pressures parents to try to set an example of perfection for their kids. Many psychologists say, though, that by admitting your own curiosity and experiences, you help normalize those feelings and experiences for your kids. This, in turn, helps your kids feel more comfortable talking to you about subjects that are dicey.
Finally, know that there is no exact right thing to do when it comes to teaching your kids about drugs, sex, drinking or other “bad” behaviors when they come up in media. Do your best and, if you feel overwhelmed, it is okay to ask a professional for help.
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