Parents are almost constantly forced to make decisions on what their children will be exposed to. In modern society, with the Internet, television, movies, and new media all providing a wide range of different messages, some parents are especially careful with their kids. They are looking to do more than just protect their kids. They are also looking to ensure that kids grow up with a certain understanding of the world. With that in mind, many have argued that parents are essentially forced to say “no” to almost everything that the media presents to their children. This overly broad generalization is untrue, as the media often provides messages of inclusiveness, inspiration, and entertainment that are all appropriate for even the youngest children.
Parents do not have to say “no” when the media presents portraits of human respect and inclusiveness. Often, media outlets, including major news networks and even television or movies, will present messages that politically charged. Parents, then, may feel the need to keep their kids away from these messages. Not everything that is political is inherently bad, however. Children can learn at an early age about the dignity of fellow human beings and the virtues of inclusiveness. Take, for instance, those movies or television shows that depict racial struggle. Depending upon the age of the child, these messages can provide parents with an opportunity to expose their children to an appropriate way of thinking. In this way, media can actually be a conduit for positive conversation between parents and children, even when those parents are interested in presenting a specific, centered message to their children.
Parents should do not have to say “no” to media when media presents stories of inspiration that could be influential for children. Often, television networks will cover the so-called “good news” happening out in the world today. Take, for instance, the case of ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports. That network routinely runs stories on inspirational young people, including those who are battling cancer and other debilitating diseases. While some parents might argue that they are not prepared to expose their children to the reality of a cruel life, these stories can actually serve to provide children with the kinds of stories and mentors that could help them develop their own passions. News networks were influential, in fact, in presenting the story of Jack Hoffman, a seven-year-old boy from Nebraska who underwent intensive cancer therapy. Hoffman was given an opportunity take the field with his favorite team during that team’s spring game, and the resulting media story was inspiring. These are the kinds of stories that can provide multiple teaching points for parents who are looking to control the message. They can introduce their children to difficult topics while having those children draw something positive from the media’s portrayal.
Parents do not have to say “no” to various forms of media-produced entertainment because even when the entertainment does not depict proper behaviors, parents can use those events as teaching points. It is often true that television shows and movies are full of sex, drugs, alcohol abuse, foul language, and many other things that parents would not want their children to see. This is especially true during primetime, when even the major networks feature shows that have these kinds of behaviors. Parents, though, can use these things as chances to make a point about some behavior or attitude that they find inappropriate (Hoover et al). It is important to note that allowing a child to see things produced by mass media does not necessarily indicate a parent’s acceptance of whatever is on the screen. Rather, it could just serve as an exposure for the child, giving the child a glimpse into the reality around her. Parents, then, could step in to discuss with the child the things that the child saw.
The parent could explain why certain things are wrong and the potential consequences for doing things that the parent can define as “bad.” While some argue that the media is in control of the child when children are put in front of mass media messaging, the truth is that an active and engaged parent has the ability to take control when those situations arise. A parent has the ability to step in and offer an opinion. Often, because children respect their parents and value the opinions of their parents, children are willing to listen to their parents on controversial issues. Without using media entertainment as a vehicle, it can be difficult for parents to bring up various behaviors or engage in a meaningful discussion with kids (Vandewater). Media, then, serves a positive purpose with its entertainment even when that entertainment is not depicting the kinds of behaviors and attitudes that a parent is interested in for her child.
Ultimately the decision on what to allow a child to watch rests with every parent. Some argue that in today’s world, it is almost imperative for parents to turn down nearly everything that the media is offering. This is not true, though, as some media portrayals can actually be positive for children, and even when they are not, parents still have the power to control the situation by putting their own spin on what the child just watched. Just because a child sees something on television does not ensure that the child will immediately accept the attitude or behavior. Parents have the ability to provide proper framing, and a major part of the parenting process is providing that kind of guidance when children are exposed to the realities of the things that are facing them.
- Hoover, Stewart M., Lynn Schofield Clark, and Diane F. Alters. Media, home and family. Routledge, 2003.
- Vandewater, Elizabeth A., et al. ““No—You Can’t Watch That” Parental Rules and Young Children’s Media Use.” American Behavioral Scientist 48.5 (2005): 608-623.