Protecting Children from the Effects of Electronic Media
It’s not all just fun and games. What children do in their down time—when they are not in school or in planned activities—can have a serious impact on their lives and health, both now and in the future. Whether or not your children are fixated on TV or video games, it’s likely that they spend many hours a week tuned into music, movies, computer games, or television shows. While their main goal is to be entertained, they also are soaking in the messages that these shows and games deliver. Here is important information you need to know about the effects of electronic media on your children, and what you can do to lessen the negative impact:
Watch with them. When your children are watching television shows or movies at home, be sure to be tuned in yourself. Speak up when you see something that you find offensive—from the gluttony promoted by many restaurants to violence or inappropriate behavior.
Turn it off. Limit the amount of time your children spend in front of the TV, and turn off any shows that you believe are promoting violence, sexuality, disrespect for the law, and alcohol or drug use.
Keep it out of their rooms. Children who have TVs or computer game systems in their rooms spend too many hours tuned out and too few working on activities that build their minds, bodies, and social skills.
Listen in. When your children talk to each other or to friends, occasionally listen in. Be aware if they seem to be identifying with characters in games or shows who are not good role models. If so, limit their viewing or participating in those programs/games, and talk to them about the type of behaviors that are good to follow, and those that aren’t.
Use the rating systems. There are helpful rating systems on all television shows, music CDs, and video games. Be aware of what the ratings are and strictly limit your children to those that you feel are appropriate.
Understand that watching violence breeds violence. Many studies have shown that children who watch a lot of violent programming, play violent computer video games, and play music that glorifies violence are more prone to acting out in violent ways than other children. Make sure to limit, or eliminate altogether, such media in your home.
Don’t give in. If your children beg for video games, music, or DVDs that you feel are inappropriate, ignore their pleas and don’t buy them. Alert relatives and others who might buy your children gifts that you want to make sure the games and shows your children play and watch are appropriate. Be strong if your child gets an inappropriate game or DVD as a gift—thank the giver, but then exchange it for something else.
Help them understand real from fantasy. Some children get lost in the images they see in videos, TV shows, and computer games and want to act out what they are watching. Sometimes the results can be tragic. Monitor your children’s behavior and step in strongly if they seem to be identifying with the characters in the shows or games they are watching. Stress that the shows are not real and that acting out what they’re viewing can be dangerous.
Set a good example. Limit the amount of television that you and other adults in the house watch. Encourage activities that involve the whole family that don’t involve a television or game console.
Finally, take the word of the experts in child health—the American Academy of Pediatrics. It has warned parents that children who watch a lot of television can end up doing more poorly in school, may be more likely to have attention problems, and may have problems with self-control and moral judgment.