"But Mom, everybody else is watching it." "It's no worse than what I see or hear at school." Many a parent has heard these lines when a wheedling child hopes to view a movie, television show or video game that may be pushing the limits. Parents and leaders have a right and a responsibility to help children locate, evaluate and select appropriate media. Following are some helpful tips in creating guidelines and rating systems for your family.
Recognize the impact
Scores of studies verify the influence of media on the mental, physical and emotional health of children and teenagers. The link between the media and problems in school, acts of violence, tobacco use, eating disorders, and sexual promiscuity cannot be denied. The current ratings system attempts to facilitate media content regulation, but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics a practice known as "ratings creep" is increasingly occurring, in which "adult material is introduced to products rated for younger audiences." The need for careful, individual parental guidance has never been greater.
Know the industry guidelines
Without a universal rating system for film, TV, and video, determining what is right for you and your family can be difficult and confusing. A good resource for understanding television ratings can be found at http://www.tvguidelines.org. The Motion Picture Association of America explains movie ratings, and The Entertainment Software Rating Board gives information on video game rating categories.
Evaluate media products
As you decide on the media that is appropriate for your family, you might consider the following aspects as outlined by members of the National Institute on Media and the Family:
The amount of violent content
The extent to which media may cause fear in children
The amount of illegal or harmful behavior displayed
The amount of offensive language
The amount of nudity
The amount of sexual content
The appropriateness of the show, film or game for children of varying ages
Several useful sites are available to delineate behaviors and attitudes portrayed in media. These sites use various techniques such as a letter grade or a score from 1 to 10 to judge media on a variety of factors.
As society continues to push the envelope on a multitude of moral and social issues, families need to firmly establish their own value system, and then consistently evaluate if the media they watch and hear reflects their beliefs.
One mother of four says her goal is to teach her children how to choose appropriately at a young age so they will know and live family values on their own as they mature. She says, "The best way to establish a family rating system is to increase the individual spirituality of each family member so they can do their own monitoring."
Watching and listening to media that portrays morality, decency, and human dignity can enhance and accentuate family values.
Setting clear media boundaries will help children know what is acceptable and desirable. Parents need to be united in their views on appropriate media, and then involve the whole family in establishing a family rating system. Consider holding a family council to determine what entertainment reflects your value system. Encourage all family members to discuss what they feel is appropriate for their age and sensitivity level.
Our family established a rule that no one is ever old enough for an R-rated film and PG-13 movies are not intended for anyone under 13. Because we have drawn a line in the sand, we do not have to decide our rules again each time a new movie is released. Children who have clear expectations and limits can better navigate the entertainment world as they grow to adulthood.
Stay connected with your children's choices by:
Watching and listening to what your kids are seeing and hearing
Spot-checking children's music
Placing computers and television sets in public areas instead of bedrooms
Installing security on your computer and television
Password protecting computers
Model positive behavior
Children live what they know. Set a good example for your child by monitoring your own entertainment choices. Have the courage and self-discipline to change the channel, turn off the computer or walk out of the theater when necessary.
The National PTA suggests that parents make a media use contract with their children. To help you get started, check out the family online safety contract at: http://www.fosi.org/images/stories/resources/family-online-safety-contract.pdf. Be sure to live up to your side of the agreement.
Incorporate creative censoring systems
Jen's family places a teddy bear by the side of the television. If anything inappropriate occurs, "PG Bear" pops up in front of the screen!
Kathryn's daughters sing loudly over rough language or unseemly dialogue.
Many families use filtering devices such as ClearPlay to edit undesirable content from DVDs.
Place a picture of a religious figure or respected person next to the TV or computer and ask yourself, "Would I be comfortable viewing this material in their presence?"
Establish a system for young children where green signifies "safe," yellow indicates "watch with a parent," and red means "stay away."
Accentuate the positive
Parents need to discover ways to say "yes" to their children about entertainment. Media can be uplifting, informative, positive, and a great way to teach important life lessons.
Use the techniques discussed to locate wholesome shows and watch them together.
Experience the music your children enjoy and introduce them to some of your own favorites.
Use an uplifting site as your computer's home page.
Develop questions and conversation topics regarding inspirational entertainment.
As parents and leaders become more informed and better role models regarding entertainment, today's plugged-in children can navigate the limitless media messages they receive and learn to surround themselves with that which is healthy and uplifting.