It's a typical evening. After working all day you're exhausted. As soon as you get home and walk in the door, you plop on the couch and join your children in front of the television. Or maybe you flip on your PC and escape into surfing the Internet while your son or daughter is absorbed in Nintendo and your spouse listens to a favorite CD.
Technology and the media are central to most American homes. More than 99% of Americans own at least one TV and 80% own more than one. Most children watch at least two to three hours of television each weekday and even more on the weekends. Video games, the Internet and movies also play an important part in the lives of many youngsters.
If families use technology and the media carefully, they can reap great benefits. But if they spend too much time consuming media, the effects can be harmful. Parents can take an active role in making sure the media are a good influence in their homes. Some general principles include:
- Set a good example. Children learn not only from what they are intentionally taught, but also from what they see their parents and other adults do. Don't show them it's okay to spend excessive time watching TV or it's okay to consume entertainment with unwholesome content.
- Make rules. Set limits on the amount of time family members watch television, play video games, use the Internet, etc. Also, decide what programs, games, and Internet sites are appropriate and which are not.
- Watch TV together. Watching television with your children gives you the chance to point out good content, bad content, and unrealistic content. It also decreases the negative effects and enhances the positive effects of television viewing. As you help your children analyze a TV show, they develop a better sense of what is right and wrong.
- Provide alternative activities. The Family: A Proclamation to the World teaches that happy families include "wholesome recreational activities" in their family life (¶ 7). As you limit television, video games, and Internet use, you'll need to help your children find other activities that are interesting and positive.
It's important that parents understand the many ways their children can be harmed by the media, including television, movies, the Internet, video games, and music videos. For example, very often these media don't reflect or respect strong values. They tend to show marriages as disposable and religious people as nutty. They glorify violence, make fun of patriotism, promote obscene language and treat infidelity, premarital sex, and homosexuality as normal.
Here are practical ideas to help you make sure media content in your home is wholesome:
- Get a TV Guardian to block inappropriate language from your television. (Seewww.tvguardian.com)
- Consider buying a television that has the V-Chip to block shows with harmful content. (All televisions manufactured since January 1, 2000 are required to contain the V-Chip.) For more information, visit the V-Chip website at www.fcc.gov/vchip.
- Consider movie and television ratings but don't trust them to tell you what shows you should or shouldn't watch. Those who set the ratings may not have the same value system you do. Before watching a movie, check various sources to make sure the content is appropriate. For example, talk to a trusted friend who has seen the show you are considering. Or check www.screenit.comor www.familystyle.com.
- Get a filter for your Internet access. Filters block entrance to websites that contain inappropriate content. Many different software programs and internet service providers offer this service.
- Talk with your children about the shows and advertisements you see with them, comparing what is portrayed on the screen with real life. Your children will benefit as you communicate with them about the media and its influences.
Amount of Time Spent Consuming Media
It's also important to limit the amount of time family members spend with all forms of media. Studies show that too much television can harm children's brain development, decrease academic performance, and weaken their vocabulary, and even increase the chance they'll become obese. Too much time on the Internet can cause children and adults to disengage from society.
Here are practical ideas to help you and your family decide how much time you want to spend consuming media:
- Consider setting a goal as a family to refrain from watching television for one month (or one week), and see the difference it makes.
- Decide on the amount of time each family member can watch television, then make a time log and have family members sign in and out when watching television. The same approach can be used for Internet usage and video game playing.
- Consider turning off the television during mealtime and interact with one another instead.
- Don't watch television out of boredom. Plan in advance which shows you or your family will watch, choosing only educational and uplifting shows. Stick to your plan.
- Consider having only one television in your home. This may discourage excessive TV viewing in your home.
- Consider getting rid of cable, if you have it. If you have fewer channels available to choose from, your family may spend less time in front of the Tube.
- Consider getting rid of your Nintendo or PlayStation, or if that is too much at once, get rid of any violent video games you own.
- Get an entertainment center that has doors that close. Whenever the television isn't in use, close the doors. This may help to prevent the television from being perceived as an easily accessible alternative to other activities.
The Media as an Educational Tool
If you're selective, the media can be a great educational tool. The Internet is rich in good information. Television can inform and teach. One study found that children who watched Sesame Street progressed more intellectually than those who didn't. Other studies have found that watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood helps children learn to nurture and care for others, to work well, and to use their imagination.
More Practical Ideas
Below are additional ideas to help you ensure the media plays a healthy role in your home:
- Hold a family council and decide together what role you want the media to play in your home. Set goals as a family about how much time you want to spend with the media and what kind of content is acceptable.
- Arrange your family room to be family friendly rather than media friendly. Two couches facing each other rather than both facing the television communicates that the family values conversation more than passive entertainment.
- Place computers that have Internet access in high-traffic areas in the home.
- Treat your television and computer like tools not toys.
- Encourage your children to read good books. Do this by example, by reading to your children from the time they are infants, and by making books easily accessible with a home library and/or frequent trips to your local library.
- Set aside one night a week as a family night. Instead of watching television or playing video games, spend time together as a family.
Written by Brynn Marie Blake Steimle, Graduate Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Bennett, S., & Bennett, R. L. (1994). Kick the TV habit: A simple program for changing your family's television viewing and video game habits. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books.
- Bryant J., & Bryant, J. A. (Eds.). (2001). Television and the American family (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.