Many parents today may worry about the effects that media has on children. This concern is not unfounded, as studies have shown that media usage may have negative impacts on teen behavior8 and health.4 However, parents are not powerless to prevent the potential negative outcomes of media use. To help teens consider the effects of media, parents can monitor the way their teens use media. Parental media monitoring helps to protect adolescents from the potential negative outcomes of media use.1
While parents may try a variety of methods to monitor media in their homes, the two most common types of parental monitoring are active and restrictive.1
Active media monitoring focuses on talking with teens with the intent to influence media choices.2, 7 One example would be talking to a teen about the content of a show they are watching. A parent may express an opinion or ask a question to start a conversation. For example, when violence is promoted in a show a parent could ask, “How do you feel about the language in this show? What does it say about the respect they have for each other?” When this is done with love and with appropriate timing, these conversations allow parents to share important values as well as give parents greater insight into their teens’ thinking about moral issues.8
Restrictive media monitoring consists of parents creating specific rules about the type of content teens are allowed to view or the amount of time they are allowed to use media.1, 8 For example, parents may restrict teens from watching “R” rated movies or using media after a certain nighttime hour. These rules are typically designed to reduce a teen’s exposure to negative content and also tend to reduce consumption. However, rules that do not change with a teen’s growing ability to take responsibility or that are too restrictive can have the opposite effect. Teens may seek out prohibited media in secret ways, for example, by privately looking at forbidden content on their smart phone or engaging in inappropriate media with friends outside the home.
In general, both types of media monitoring can be used positively. However, the approach or style parents use to apply these monitoring techniques may have the largest impact on teens.3, 10 Parents may approach these conversations and rule setting or enforcement in three ways: controlling, inconsistent, or autonomy-supportive.5 Parents who use the controlling style tend to set strict rules without accepting input from their children. Parents who use the inconsistent style typically set strict rules, but do not regularly enforce them. Neither of these approaches deliver the most helpful outcomes for parents, teens, or their relationship.
The autonomy-supportive style shows respect for youth based on the belief that when they are taught correct principles, they can learn to govern themselves.11 Research demonstrates that this approach is the most successful in guiding teens to good media choices.3, 5 As the name of this style implies, the focus is on supporting the autonomy or independence of the child while creating rules that teens are expected to follow. Parents who use an autonomy-supportive style are likely to talk with teens about media and create rules with the help of their teen. With this approach, parents are able to support their teens’ independence while still providing limits and structure.
Parents still maintain the ultimate authority to help set the rules and teach important principles, but they are willing to discuss the details and implementation of any rules they ultimately establish. Teens develop ownership, feel trusted, and have more conversations about the intentional use of media. As a result, the autonomy-supportive style provides structured independence by encouraging self-control and involving children in rule setting5, 10 and appears to be the best long-term strategy for helping teens to make positive choices about media use.
Benefits of an Autonomy-Supportive Style
When parental media monitoring is done in a way that offers structured independence teens will likely spend less time using media.1, 3, 7 Time with media matters in a teens’ life. When a teen’s media use increases, he or she is less likely to get enough sleep, less likely to do well in school, and more likely to engage in antisocial behavior.4 Providing structured independence can help decrease these negative outcomes by influencing the amount of time teens spend using media.
Additionally, teens are more likely to internalize their parents’ values when a parent’s monitoring supports independence.3, 10 During the teen years, young people seek greater independence and decision-making opportunities; in fact, in a few short years, they will be grown and have complete freedom. When parental media monitoring supports teens’ independence, teens are more likely to adopt the values parents are trying to teach them.5, 6 With this internalization of values, teens are more likely to continue to live those values even when their parents are no longer watching closely.
Ideas for Parents
How can parents use this structured approach to help their teens to make wise media choices?
- Ask questions. Ask teens what they think about the language, actions, or characters in a show. Listen with love to their response in order to better understand how they view the media they consume and the world around them.
For example, you have noticed your teen watching a lot of violent TV shows recently. A conversation about the content may start with a question like, “Do your friends at school ever do things like what you see in this TV show? How would you react if they did?” In this way parents may learn a bit more about their teens’ social life and have the opportunity to teach their teen about controlling emotion and avoiding aggression.
- Create rules as a family. Use dinner time, family councils, or one-on-one conversations with teens to understand what rules feel reasonable. With the teen’s input a parent can create rules that feel fair and protect against negative media influences.
For example, you are concerned that your teen’s grades are slipping because of the amount of time they use media each day. A conversation about the amount of time they use media may begin with a question like, “How much time do you think you need to do homework each day? In order to give yourself enough time, what do you think would be a fair time limit on how long you play video games after school?” With the teens’ suggestions in mind, the parents can create a time limit on video game use. Teens are more likely to follow this rule because they feel they have helped to create it, rather than have the restriction placed upon them without input.
- Be flexible. Remember that as teens grow and develop, they will be ready for increased levels of responsibility. As teens seek greater independence, some rules may begin to feel unreasonable over time. Keep having conversations with teens and be willing to revisit rules that may have become too limiting of the teen’s independence.
For example, when your teen begins junior high school, you may create a rule that he/she must complete all homework before using any media. After a year or two, the teen comes to you and expresses a desire to have more control over his or her daily schedule. After some discussion you may agree to decide that as long as their grades stay up and they get to bed early enough most nights, they can plan time for both homework and video games, with the agreement that the prior restrictions will apply if conditions are not met after a trial period.
The potential risks of media usage, such as increased aggression8 and decreased success in school4 are worthy of a parents’ concern. If parents do not monitor their teens media usage, these outcomes are more likely to occur. However, parents have the power to help teens avoid these negative effects. By monitoring teens media usage in an autonomy-supportive way, parents can provide the structured independence that will help their teen to choose media wisely.
Written by Kaelie Landon, edited by Professors Julie Haupt and Stephen F. Duncan, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University. May 8, 2019.
- Collier, K. M., Coyne, S. M., Rasmussen, E. E., Hawkins, A. J., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Erickson, S. E., & Memmott-Elison, M. K. (2016). Does parental mediation of media influence child outcomes? A meta-analysis on media time, aggression, substance use, and sexual behavior. Developmental Psychology, 52(5), 798–812. doi:10.1037/dev0000108
- Coyne, S. M., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Holmgren, H. G., Davis, E. J., Collier, K. M., Memmott-Elison, M. K., & Hawkins, A. J. (2018). A meta-analysis of prosocial media on prosocial behavior, aggression, and empathetic concern: A multidimensional approach. Developmental Psychology, 54(2), 331–347. doi:10.1037/dev0000412
- Fikkers, K. M., Piotrowski, J. T., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2017). A matter of style? Exploring the effects of parental mediation styles on early adolescents’ media violence exposure and aggression. Computers in Human Behavior, 70, 407-415. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2017.01.029
- Gentile, D. A., Reimer, R. A., Nathanson, A. I., Walsh, D. A., & Eisenmann, J. C. (2014). Protective effects of parental monitoring of children’s media use: A prospective study. JAMA Pediatrics, 168(5), 479-484. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.146
- Meeus, A., Beyens, I., Geusens, F., Sodermans, A. K., & Beullens, K. (2018). Managing positive and negative media effects among adolescents: Parental mediation matters—but not always. Journal of Family Communication, 18(4), 270-285 doi:10.1080/15267431.2018.1487443
- Padilla-Walker, L. M., Coyne, S. M., Kroff, S. L., & Memmott-Elison, M. K. (2018). The protective role of parental media monitoring style from early to late adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 47(2), 445–459. doi:.1007/s10964-017-0722-4
- Padilla-Walker, L. M., Coyne, S. M., & Collier, K. M. (2016). Longitudinal relations between parental media monitoring and adolescent aggression, prosocial behavior, and externalizing problems. Journal of Adolescence, 46, 86–97. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2015.11.002
- Ruh Linder, J., & Werner, N. E. (2012). Relationally aggressive media exposure and children's normative beliefs: Does parental mediation matter? Family Relations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies, 61(3), 488-500. doi:10.1111/j.1741- 3729.2012.00707.x
- Twenge, J. M., Martin, G. N., & Spitzberg, B. H. (2018). Trends in US adolescents’ media use, 1976–2016: The rise of digital media, the decline of TV, and the (near) demise of print. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. doi:10.1037/ppm0000203
- Valkenburg, P. M., Piotrowski, J. T., Hermanns, J., & de Leeuw, R. (2013). Developing and validating the Perceived Parental Media Mediation Scale: A self‐determination perspective. Human Communication Research, 39(4), 445–469. doi:10.1111/hcre.12010
- John Taylor, “The Organization of the Church,” Millennial Star, 15, 1851, p. 339
The Family: A Proclamation to the World teaches that, “happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.”1 However, much of today’s media promotes behaviors counter to Christ’s teachings. In For the Strength of Youth, teens are counseled: “Choose wisely when using media because whatever you read, listen to, or look at has an effect on you.”2 To help teens value the teachings of Christ and consider the effects of media, parents have a responsibility to educate their youth about media. This can include monitoring and/or limiting the type of content teens view and the time they spend consuming it. With an increasing array of technology, including smart phones, tablets, and gaming systems, there is more media than ever for parents to monitor.
This increase in technology does not need to inspire fear. Elder David A. Bednar taught, “neither technology nor rapid change in or of itself is good or evil; the real challenge is to understand both within the context of the eternal plan of happiness.”3 A testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation can provide teens with a personal filter through which they view media. Sister Linda S. Reeves taught, “the greatest filter in the world, the only one that will ultimately work, is the personal internal filter that comes from a deep and abiding testimony of our Heavenly Father’s love and our Savior’s atoning sacrifice for each one of us.”4
Parents will be able to best guide teens to positive media choices with frequent, open communication about media. One important topic of discussion is how to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate media choices. Elder David A. Bednar has suggested two questions for individuals to determine whether a particular media choice would have a positive or negative influence. First, “does the use of various technologies and media invite or impede the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost in your life?” Second, “does the time you spend using various technologies and media enlarge or restrict your capacity to live, to love, and to serve in meaningful ways?”3 By discussing these two questions, parents and teens can discuss ways to make sure media plays a productive role and make plans to change media habits when needed.
Learning and discussing these principles for guiding media choices is best done in a home-centered, church-supported way. Parents should remember that “the most effective teaching takes place in the home.”5 For example, these discussions can happen in planned, formal teaching settings, such as family home evening or family council meetings. Elder M. Russell Ballard stated that family councils can directly counter the negative influences of media: “A family council, when conducted with love and with Christlike attributes, will counter the impact of modern technology that often distracts us from spending quality time with each other and also tends to bring evil right into our homes.”6
Teens can also learn many important principles in casual conversation with parents. These casual, but important, conversations can happen during ordinary activities such as driving to school or cooking dinner. When teens recognize that their parents’ want to and will listen, they can better recognize the love their parents feel for them and may be more willing to listen to parental council. The positive influence of parents who listen to and understand their children is “impossible to overestimate.”7
Ultimately, parents are responsible for protecting their children from potentially harmful influences. Elder M. Russell Ballard has taught, “Movies, magazines, television, videos, the Internet, and other media are there as guests and should only be welcomed when they are appropriate for family enjoyment. Make your home a haven of peace and righteousness. Don’t allow evil influences to contaminate your own special spiritual environment.”8 Parents can and should involve teens in making the home a “special spiritual environment.” This can be done by inviting teens to share how the media they view impacts them personally and inviting them to contribute to the creation of some family rules about media.
Finally, President Henry B. Eyring counseled that parents “will best lead by example.” Parents set a good example of choosing media when they seek out “anything virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praise worthy” (Articles of Faith 1:13) and “avoid any media that is “vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic”2 or “presents immorality or violence as acceptable.”2 Having good examples to follow is particularly important for teens today.
President Russell M. Nelson told the youth of the church: “You have the capacity to be smarter and wiser and have more impact on the world than any previous generation!”10 Today’s teens need parental models and support to help them live up to their great potential. When parents help teens to make media a servant rather than a master by choosing to consume appropriate media in healthy ways, they enable youth to rise to this standard.
Written by Kaelie Landon, edited by Professors Julie Haupt and Stephen F. Duncan, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University. May 8, 2019.
- The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (1995, November). The family: A proclamation to the world. Ensign, 102.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (2011). For the strength of youth. Salt Lake City, UT: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
- Bednar, D. A. (2010, June). Things as they really are. Ensign, 40, 16-25, 23.
- Reeves, L. S. (2014, May). Protection from pornography - A Christ-focused home. Ensign, 44, 15-17, 16.
- Faust, J. E. (1990, November). The greatest challenge in the world – Good parenting. Ensign, 20, 32-35, 35.
- Ballard, M. R. (2016, May). Family councils. Ensign, 46, 63-65, 63.
- Hales, R. D. (2010, May). Our duty to God: The mission of parents and leaders to the rising generation. Ensign, 40, 95-97, 95.
- Ballard, M. R. (1999, May). Like a flame unquenchable. Ensign, 29, 85-87.
- Eyring, H. B. (2019, May). A home where the spirit of the Lord dwells. Ensign, 49, 22-25, 23.
- Nelson, R. M. (June 3, 2018). Hope of Israel. Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults.