“Your music’s too loud!”
“Turn the TV off!”
“That movie is way too violent.”
“Get off the Internet.”
As kids get older, they struggle with parents over control of leisure activities. Kids want to relax with TV, satisfy their curiosity by watching R-rated movies, listen to popular music, explore the Internet, and play video games until they win. To a child, these are enjoyable—and at times fascinating—activities. She gets to do what her friends do, stay busy, find things out, and avoid stressful situations. She doesn’t always think about the value of these pursuits. She just wants to pass the time, get involved in something interesting, and have fun.
Parents do think about the consequences. They know that time spent in front of the TV or playing video or computer games is time taken away from schoolwork, physical activity, socializing, reading, and creative hobbies. And they worry that exposure through the computer and the media to violence, sex, profanity, alcohol, drugs, and questionable morality will have a harmful effect on their child.
The main issue for parents is deciding what to let their child see and do, and for how long. They must set limits, but they also have to compromise, allowing her enough freedom so that she won’t pursue forbidden activities behind their backs.
If you have rules about TV-watching, make exceptions for special programs, nights when homework is done early, rainy days, and other circumstances. Allow her to spend more time on a videogame when a friend is over or when the game is new. If she’s begging to watch a rented video that you consider marginal, watch it with her and then talk about it. And let her play her music loudly at times when no one will be greatly disturbed.
Provide alternative activities for your child based on her interests. Enroll her in classes; encourage increased involvement in extracurricular activities; have books, magazines, art materials, and games available. Suggest she read the paper. (She can find movie, music, TV, and concert reviews there.) Spend time doing things as a family. Plan trips to museums, stores, or parks, and have your child bring a friend along.
Follow your instincts. You know what’s appropriate for your child and approximately how much time she needs for homework, physical activity, socializing, and relaxing. Decide what you’re comfortable allowing her to do, and decide on your “absolute no’s.” Then don’t be swayed by what other children are permitted to do. Families rarely have identical values.
If you and your child argue about movies, try to read as much as you can about the ones she’s interested in. Talk to people who’ve seen them. If a movie seems acceptable, let her go. But if you believe it will frighten her too much, be too intense, or expose her to sights and ideas you disapprove of, say no. Don’t rigidly depend on the ratings. Some R-rated movies may be acceptable if you don’t mind your child hearing profanity, while some PG movies may glorify immoral acts and characters.
Choose home videos as you would theater features. If a movie’s not right for your child, don’t let her see it. Restrict access to cable movies, using the control feature on the cable box if necessary, and let your child know what kinds of movies she should and shouldn’t watch when she’s at friends’ homes.
Handle TV-viewing in a similar way. Let your child watch programs that are good or at least harmless. Preview an episode of a questionable series or read about made-for-TV movies ahead of time to see if they’re acceptable. Let your child watch some music videos if she’s interested, and at times discuss the contents with her. Use electronic parental control mechanisms when appropriate. If you have a job outside the home, keep a copy of a TV schedule at work so you and your child can talk by phone about afternoon shows. Monitor how much time she spends watching. TV should be a minor entertainment, not a major occupation that takes up a disproportionate amount of time. Your child should save TV-watching for the short breaks between the truly important activities in her life.
Video and computer games, by their nature, require a lot of playing time. It’s OK to let your child occasionally spend several hours at a time at a videogame, as long as she doesn’t do it regularly and she’s devoting enough time to schoolwork, socializing, and outdoor activity. Since you won’t approve of many games, question your child closely and read reviews before making buying or renting decisions. One mother told her ten-year-old son, “You can get a game, but not one that shows any torture or killing.”
You probably view your child’s computer use as a mixed blessing—you’re glad for the time she spends on homework, research, and exploring her interests. The Internet offers amazing learning opportunities. You also may accept time spent on instant messaging as a good alternative to phone use. But you may be concerned about extended Web-surfing and on-line chatting, and justifiably worried about the harmful or dangerous content she may encounter. Again, use whatever electronic parental controls you find appropriate and limit computer use in the same common sense way you limit TV and video game time.
Finally, like many parents, you may argue with your child about her choice of music. Try to be patient. Occasionally listen with her and let her play her music in the car. She’ll appreciate your interest, and you’ll learn something about her taste and thinking. You may be surprised to discover positive messages in music you’d previously considered harsh or even harmful. In general, let her listen to the music she likes, but keep her from buying CDs you strongly object to. Educate yourself by looking for reviews and questioning other children and adult listeners. It’s hard to control what your child hears, especially on the radio, but you can express your displeasure with certain lyrics and ideas.
As long as your relationship with your child is strong and she’s doing well in school and with peers, you don’t have to worry about lyrics having a negative influence on her. If she’s having trouble at home and elsewhere, she may be more susceptible to the negative messages in her favorite songs. Rather than censor the music, try to make positive changes in her life. Strict limits alone may only encourage her to lie about what she’s doing.
When you set limits on any of your child’s leisure activities, are calm and don’t make fun of her choices. You want to criticize a program or product, not your child. Instead of shouting, “Only a stupid person would waste time on such trash,” say, “Don’t you think this program makes girls and women seem unintelligent? I don’t like our family watching shows with that message.” She might be more willing to follow your suggestions and rules if you explain your objections and treat her with respect.
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