Recently, I followed an argument on Facebook regarding how closely we should monitor what our children watch on TV. Commenters fell on two distinct sides: 1) those who felt that teenagers are exposed to everything anyway, so what they watch on TV doesn’t really matter as long as parents turn shows into teachable moments and 2) those who felt that media has a tremendous influence on our kids and that we should keep them away from trash as much as possible.
It really made me think. And I’m still thinking.
Here’s what’s rolling around in my brain: Yes, kids are exposed to everything out there. They really are. And they are most heavily influenced by their peers, and parents need to know that. So if you really want to have an impact on your kids and try to steer them in the right direction, start by steering them towards classes, organizations, and activities where they will meet kids who will be decent influences. Now, if this makes sense to you, if you understand that the people who surround your kids have great power to influence them in any number of ways, then it follows that the people who surround your kids in the media-drenched society in which they live also have tremendous influence on them. Make no mistake about it – they are being influenced by their celebrity icons and the music and TV shows their icons produce.
Think about how our interactions with one another have changed since the inception of reality TV and all of its glorification of backstabbing, dumbed down and profanity-filled speech, disrespect, promiscuity, drunkenness, disloyalty, and general low brow behavior. The media found the lowest of the low, shined a light on them, made them into stars, and now years later, our society is convinced that that is the way regular people act. Our society has devolved to the point in which class is a thing of the past. If you ever question media’s influence on a society, just look at what’s happened to us since shows like Jerry Springer, Jersey Shore, and Keeping up With the Kardashians debuted. If you really want to be convinced, watch some retro TV and notice how people dressed, talked to each other, and dealt with conflict, and ask yourself which generation was more civilized. Oh yeah, we’ve devolved.
So don’t kid yourself. Your kids are being influenced by the media. Now it’s up to you to determine what standard you want to set in your own home. I hear parents say that they can’t control what their kids watch on TV, and I’m guessing that this is because they’re dealing with multiple TVs in various rooms of the house. An easy way to get a handle on this is to have one TV in a family room, no individual TVs in the kids’ rooms. Or compromise and have cable on the family TV and DVD players hooked up to the kids’ TVs so that they can watch movies in their rooms. Parental controls are a godsend to filter out R-rated movies when you’re not home,and when you are, you can use your best judgment as to whether a movie is appropriate for your children.
Sure, your kids will still find ways to watch movies or TV shows you’ve banned or listen to gangster rap you hate, usually when you’re not around to monitor them, but at least they’ll get the clear message that you don’t approve. Out of respect for you, they will distinguish between appropriate and not-so-much, and this will make them think about and maybe even question their choices.
Remember, you’re their parents, not their buddies. They want you to set boundaries and standards. They should not feel comfortable watching inappropriate movies with you or blasting profanity-laden music in your house. You might not be able to control what they do when they’re not with you, but you should be dang sure they understand and respect your wishes when they are.