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Helping Your Kids Navigate Messages in Media

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Dr. Meg Meeker

It’s no secret that our kids are getting a lot more screen time than you or I did as a kid. Media is readily available to them every moment of the day now and the amount of garbage on TV and in music is almost impossible to avoid. Keyword: almost.

I recently spoke with my special guest, Anthony Weber, about having an active and intentional approach to talking to your kids about messages in media and this topic could not be more crucial for the parents of today. Parents, I can’t even stress how crucial of a topic this is.

While it is true that our kids are increasingly susceptible to messages in all forms of media that we don’t want them to consume, it is also true that parents are not powerless to protect them. It may not be possible (or healthy) to police the media they consume every moment of every day, but it is possible and important to create a safe, trusted place where you can discuss what they are reading, playing, watching and listening to.

It is important to discuss with your kids what they are reading, watching and listening to.

1. Embed yourself in your children’s worlds.

It is vitally important for you as a parent to engage with your child. Get to know what they are watching, the games that they want to play and the music they are listening to. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it’s critical that you know what your kids are exposed to. Embedding yourself in your child’s world gives you the power and ability to influence their decisions. Talk through their shows or games with them and open up a dialogue on what they like or don’t like.Stay involved and interested and your kids will feel safer in staying open in their communication with you.

Embedding yourself in your child’s world gives you the ability to influence their decisions.

2. Ask good questions about the shows they watch.

Ask who the main characters are, ask how your kids feel about those characters actions and the choices they are making – and listen (without interrupting/correcting/arguing) to the answers they give you. Rather than telling them what to think, teach your children by asking their opinions first. A child is much more likely to listen to what you have to say when you first ask them what their opinion is and listen to it. This makes them feel that you’re paying attention and you’re interested in what they have to say. Making sure your kids know you value their opinion is very important to keeping communication open and flowing with them. Now, when your child gives you their thoughts and opinions, you can direct further questions that will make them think the way you think. In other words, you can bring them to a conclusion by asking specific questions. When kids see that you are genuinely interested in their opinions, they are far more likely to keep talking and they’ll want to sit down and watch shows and movies with you. And most importantly, they’ll listen to you when you tell them why, in the future, they shouldn’t watch a show, listen to certain music or play a type of game.

Making sure kids know you value their opinion is important to keeping communication open with them.

3. Set clear game rules about media and tell your kids why.

Many parents either tell their children they can never watch TV or movies or they go to the opposite extreme and they surrender all rules and guidelines, simply saying “I can’t do anything about it. Kids are going to watch these things regardless.” Don’t adopt that attitude! That’s simply not true. Kids will listen to the boundaries you set if you explain the reason why you have them and if you’ve taken the time to listen to their opinions about the movies/shows/music that they are watching.

So, you need to review current movies and shows etc. and make a list of why you’ve chosen some as acceptable and why others are not. When you do that, give them specific reasons – and don’t be afraid to tell them that certain shows are off-limits when they are at a friends house. Parents are afraid to do this because they incorrectly assume that their child will watch the show regardless. If a show comes on that they know that aren’t supposed to watch, ask them to call you and you will pick them up. If they are worried about looking silly in front of their friends, tell your child that they can blame you for being strict and setting those boundaries. Always be the fall guy for your child. You’ll be protecting them from harmful influences and in time, your young adult will look back and thank you for setting rules and boundaries.

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