I think the answer for most of us would be a resounding, “NO!”
We want to know – really know — the people our children associate with. Is this a person of good character? Will he/she be a positive influence on my child? Is this someone who is going to support the values I want my child to hold, or will they be working to undermine me as an authority in my child’s eyes? Is this someone who is going to harm my child, or expose my child to influences I don’t want them exposed to? Is this person going to encourage my child to do things that might be harmful to himself or others?
These are the kind of thoughts that run through most parents’ minds before handing our precious, innocent children over to someone else’s custody or care.
But if we’re that careful with the PEOPLE who might exert influence over our child’s life, shouldn’t we be just as careful with the MEDIA that will likely exert influence over our child’s life?
One survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that time spent with electronic media is the equivalent of a full-time job for today’s 8- to 18-year-olds, who spend more than 53 hours a week on average using entertainment media. But because much of that time is spent ‘media multitasking’ children today actually spend the equivalent of more than 75 hours a week using entertainment media – that’s more than twice as much time as is spent in school, and 1/3 more time than is spent sleeping.
Moreover, less and less of that media time is spent watching TV and more of it is spent on mobile devices, away from the watchful gaze of mom and dad.
A 2013 report from Common Sense Media revealed that among families with children age 8 and under, there has been a five-fold increase in ownership of tablet devices such as iPads, and children with access to some type of “smart” mobile device at home has jumped from half (52%) to three-quarters (75%) of all children in just two years. According to the CSM survey, 72% of children age 8 and under have used a mobile device for some type of media activity, up from 38% in 2011, and the percent of children who use mobile devices on a daily basis – at least once a day or more – has more than doubled, from 8% to 17%, and the amount of TIME spent on these devices has tripled.
It is to be hoped that this survey serves as a wake-up call for parents who, it seems, are facilitating their children’s excessive media consumption. Survey data show that fewer than half of all 8- to 18-year-olds say they have rules about what TV shows they can watch (46%), video games they can play (30%), or music they’re allowed to listen to (26%). But those rules are difficult to enforce when seven in ten children surveyed have a television set in their bedroom and half have a video game console in their bedroom.
It should come as a surprise to no one that children often disobey family rules about media use when left unsupervised. Yet by allowing children to have TVs computers and video game consoles in their own rooms, parents are ceding any control they might be otherwise be able to exercise over their child’s media choices. Worse, they lose the opportunity to correct negative messages their children may be picking up in the media they are consuming.
When children isolate themselves from their families, and instead hole-up with their cell phones, laptops, MP3 players, TVs, or video game consoles; parents lose the ability to share their beliefs and values, to provide them with the moral foundation that will guide their decision making in the face of peer pressure. Instead, the harmful messages are compounded and reinforced by other media forms. If a child watches TV programs that characterize women as brainless sexual playthings, then a plays video game that allows him to simulate sex with a prostitute and beat her up, then listens to music that also reinforces that view of women as mere sexual objects – how likely is it that the child will develop a normal, healthy view of male/female relationships?
We can’t count on Hollywood to do what’s in the best interest of our children. So parents must do whatever they can, whenever they can, to counteract the negative messages their children are likely picking up from popular media.
Take a close look at how and when your children use entertainment media and make efforts to limit their media use. Even if the content they are consuming is mostly harmless, time spent with electronic media has been linked to a number of negative outcomes for children, ranging from reduced academic performance, to increased likelihood of obesity, problems with sleep, and depression.
Establish and enforce household rules on media use, both with respect to how much time children may spend using electronic media, and determining which media products are off-limits.
Learn how to use and set the parental controls on your child’s mobile or smart devices. Invest in software that will help you control content across all platforms and internet-connected devices.
Get the TVs and game consoles out of the bedrooms, and limit the number of TVs, computers and game consoles in the home – confining them to family rooms, or rooms where you can easily keep tabs on what your kids are doing. You might consider making your child “turn-in” their phones and devices before going to bed at night and establishing rules about online communications.
Whenever possible, watch TV with your children. Turn TV time into a chance to discuss and share your values with your child. But that doesn’t mean watch your favorite adult program with your children in the room. Research has shown that a child is most likely to be exposed to age-inappropriate content in their own home, either through a parent or older sibling.