Talk to Your Child About the Influence of Media on Children

Take the time to discuss with children, at a level they can understand, the effect TV shows  and other forms of media have on them.

When my son was five years old, I think he believed that if he watched too much TV, he would have brains that look like oatmeal. That’s the only visual image he had for “mush.” Yes, I sometimes would answer in exasperation to the many “Why?”s I got when I enforcing our TV watching rules, “…because TV turns your brains to mush!”

Actually, that’s not far from the figurative. Four-, five-, or six-year-old children developmentally are not able to understand that their brain is being conditioned by media messages. At some level they can begin to understand that TV teaches them something.

Television and Media “Teaches” for Better or for Worse

I used to say to my children, “When you watch Mr. Roger’s, you learn about people and the jobs they do. What else do you learn!” or “TV teaches you about … (fill in with something positive that is very concrete to them, such as ABC’s, counting, etc.). When you watch Power Rangers, or VR Troopers, you are learning also. How do Power Rangers solve their problems? (Most children will answer: “Fighting or they beat up the bad guys.”) This show is teaching you to solve problems by fighting.” This is an important conversation to have about the influence of media on children. Variations of this conversation need to happen regularly.

Teach Children what Television and Media Teaches Them

It is important to help children understand that on TV a person can get kicked ten times and can then get up, but in real life getting kicked hurts.  In addition, discuss with children ways that superheroes can solve problems without violence.

Living in a society saturated by violent images, parents have a difficult road to follow if they are going to take a stand against media violence. Somehow, a balance needs to be achieved. If we completely deprive our children of all media violence, we worry that they will eventually rebel against our standards, making violence a steady diet, or will feel that they don’t fit in with their friends.

At Home: A Moderate Path in a Media Saturated Culture

A moderate path would be to carefully choose the shows that your child is allowed to watch. Monitor the amount of time your child watches those shows. Watch with your child. Discuss their values, lessons, and methods of problem-solving. Discuss what is real and what isn’t. Discuss the real life consequences of behavior modeled on the television show. If your child is paying violet video games, discuss the images and messages in video games, also.

In the Classroom: Critical Thinking through Television and Media Analysis

In the classroom, teachers can take an interest in their students’ favorite shows. Discuss the shows with the students to help them to understand what is real and what isn’t. Help them to employ alternatives to violence in their own play.

Teach and Reinforce Empathy

The single most important thing that parents and educators can do for preschoolers to limit negative effects caused by violence in the media is to teach them empathy. Preschoolers cannot see another person’s point of view. To require three- through five-year-olds to see someone else’s point of view is developmentally inappropriate. Preschoolers can feel empathy. Empathy needs encouragement to flourish. Here are some examples of how to encourage empathy:

• Allow children to talk about their emotions
• Notice a child sharing or showing concern for others
• Hold class or family meetings where relationships and feelings can be discussed openly

And finally, when children are unkind to one another, instead of forcing an apology, require restitution. Here are some excellent ideas for restitution and meaningful discipline. “Restitution Ideas for Disciplined Children” by Debra Pachucki

Excerpted from Free the Children by Susan Gingras Fitzell.

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