The Media’s Influence on Your Kids: 5 Tips to Help

medias influence drawing

It doesn’t matter how much we shield our children from the influence of media in our homes, eventually they go to school (or a play date) and come home talking about Angry Birds, Spongebob, or some other thing you so carefully avoided.

The bottom line is that, unless you plan to keep your child locked up at home until age 18, kids are influenced both by media and by other kids.  Trends exist because they’re fun and it feels good to be part of a larger movement.  If every kid is talking about Angry Birds except yours, your kid might feel left out.

But you don’t have to cave to the peer pressure.  The good news about trends is that they are here one day and gone the next.  Kids, in particular, shift focus fairly quickly. 

There’s no doubt about it, TV can be a powerful educational tool.  When programming is carefully selected, kids are exposed to everything from letter sounds to social skills.

TV can also, on the other hand, have a very negative effect on children.  When shows are not carefully selected and time spent in front of the TV is not carefully monitored, kids can end up with a shortened attention span, distorted body image, experience fear, and display aggressive behavior.

Below are five tips for navigating media influence on children.

Be honest:

We all have our limits.  I have no intention of ever bringing one of those creepy Monster High dolls into my home.  They look scary and I’m 99% sure they will result in nightmares.

I also have no problem explaining that to my daughter when she talks about a friend who favors those dolls.

Although they are often unreasonable in their actions, you can reason with kids.  When you’re honest with them, they are more likely to process the information and adhere to the limits.

Talk about your reasons for prohibiting a certain TV show or movie.  “I don’t think that’s a good show because the characters hurt each other a lot and the language isn’t great,” is a simple explanation that a child can understand. 

Make a pact to look for shows or games together so that you’re both satisfied with the choice.

And be honest about the themes and behaviors that come up during media time.  Talk about the differences in bodies or the aggressive choices made by characters.  It’s up to us to help our children separate fantasy from reality.

Preview everything:

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You might think a show is innocent because you know the background or you’ve read the book, but it’s always best to preview every show, movie, or game that your child might watch.  You know what your children can handle, and you need to make choices in the best interest of each child in your home.

Watch together:

As parents, we hear this advice fairly regularly.  But it can be really hard to sit through two episodes of Curious George when a sink full of dishes is calling.

The truth is that your kids need you.  When children watch shows with their parents, even shows that contain some violence, they are less likely to experience behavioral problems following the show.  When you watch together, you talk about it and process it.  You point out bad choices or think out loud about better choices.

Engage with your child to maximize the benefits of TV and other media exposure.

Talk to other parents:

We all have our own limits and rules regarding media exposure.  Some parents allow more video game play than others, for example.  Make sure you check in with other parents before dropping your child for a play date.

It’s perfectly reasonable to request no media time during a play date.  You can always offer to choose a time that doesn’t center around the other child’s normal media time or offer to host the play date, sans media, at your place.

Think beyond TV:

My kids live in a tech friendly house and have old iPhones in their rooms to use for music at night.  We don’t engage in a lot of game time on a regular basis (except when traveling – all bets are off on cross country flights!) and have very specific windows of TV time.  It works for us. They never ever try to use their iPhones for games or grab my iPad when I’m not looking.

It never occurred to me that their friends would see an iPhone, unplug it, and search for games.

It’s not just about TV anymore.  Kindergarten classrooms have computer lab time, these days.  It’s up to us to monitor wireless access, allow for specific computer and/or tablet time, and monitor the use.  If your kid is off playing video games for two hours while you are doing other things, it’s up to you to make sure that your kid isn’t acting out afterward. 

How do you manage the influence of media on your kids? 

Image via Katie Hurley

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The Media’s Influence on Your Kids: 5 Tips to Help

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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3 comments

  1. Cartoons now days are so stupid. My oldest loves some of them so much and I sit down and watch them with her sometimes and all I can think is this is such crap.

  2. ProudMomma says:

    This had many helpful hints . . . I always monitor what my kids watch but never thought about speaking to them about the bad choices going on in the shows

  3. KaelinRae says:

    This had a lot of helpful tips that I will take into consideration after my child is born and gets older.

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