The sixth point on “Raising Kids Who Care” may well be the most important— and difficult. We live in a media-saturated culture, and by reading ahead you are already demonstrating courage to confront it; or at least to consider how to moderate its influence on your children.
“Media” means forms of communication and entertainment that reach masses of people. That includes TV, movies, popular magazines, computer/cellular phone games, and “social media” like Facebook, although our main concern here is with anything that has a screen. Media, from cartoons to World of Warcraft (for you parents of older kids) can be so alluring that it pulls kids away from other forms of play, discovery, and social interaction that are essential for becoming well-adjusted people. By “well-adjusted,” I mean people who have a certain measure of self-esteem, who relate reasonably well with others, and who, in essence, care.
I am not here to advise on good or bad media, but simply to suggest that parents regulate it; that is, that you limit your kids’ consumption of it. Even Kaiser advises just “one hour of screen time a day.” This has got to be one of the greatest parental challenges of our time. Why is it so hard? Because we’re tempted too! It’s so easy to put the little ones in front of the TV so we can have a break, or get something done for goodness sake. When they’re a bit older, they’ll play at the computer for hours. Then, you blink, and you’ve got teenagers with earplugs in who don’t give a damn about what you’re saying.
Maybe that’s a little harsh, but the point is that it’s our job to make sure the media doesn’t consume our kids and stunt their growth in other areas. Come up with rules for your family and do your best to make sure they are followed. Needless to say, by regulating media consumption, you are also keeping at bay some of the materialistic, sassy, violent, and downright perverted messages that much of it delivers.
For our household, we have two primary rules. First, no screen time is allowed from Monday to Thursday. That way, homework gets done relatively quickly, the kids come to dinner when called, and bedtime is as it should be. Secondly, screen time is not allowed to interfere with real people time, such as playdates, family meals, and visits with Grandpa. People are more important, and that’s final.
Regardless of the specifics of your rules, you will be rewarded by your efforts as your kids develop various skills and interests, and grow into people who know how to turn off the TV, pull out the earplugs, be fully present, and show they care.
By Gail Perry Johnston. For more by Gail Perry Johnston, visit www.gailperryjohnston.com